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Not An Easy Journey (1/22/13)

Umstead and Mom 
 Me and my mom
 Umstead competing in a giant slalom race at Copper Mountain
 Competing in a giant slalom race at Copper Mountain
 Umstead and husband Rob on their wedding day
 Me and my husband Rob on our wedding day
 Umstead and Husband on the podium at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games
Rob and I on the podium at the Vancover 2010 Paralympic Winter
Games

My life has been made up of constant challenges and it has not been an easy journey.At the age of 13 I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. I have lost most usable vision over the years. There are blind spots in my central vision, and my peripheral vision is closing into my central vision. I have no detailed vision. Eventually I will have complete darkness.

Growing up I felt like a complete outcast. Being disabled was not socially acceptable then. I tried to hide my visual disability by portraying myself to be clumsy, not paying attention, and acting like I could laugh it off. When really I was running into things, people, and had so much trouble seeing. I tried to get involved in sports but obviously I was not the best kid on the team.

I was so lucky to have my family and a few really close friends by my side.

Twelve years ago I was in a horrible place in life; a place I do not hope for anyone to be in. I was severely depressed and I no longer wanted to live my life.

My best friend in life, who was always there for me, and always gave me hope, my Mommy, died of cancer. She was gone and I wanted to be with her. I felt like I had no one to turn to, nowhere to go, and there was no way out.

I lost my mom, sight, and will to live.

I stayed in this terrible state of mind for way too long. During this time my eyes continued to deteriorate. I truly believed that blind people could not do or be anything. They were doomed to the life of a couch potato.

My dad called me one day and said, “We are going skiing.” What? Let me remind you I am going blind. He explained how it works. He was going to guide me down the mountain and he would be my eyes. A month later we were in northern New Mexico, skiing down the slopes.

Skiing transformed my life. Skiing gave me freedom; freedom from all I knew and freedom to want more. I went from a coach potato to a ski bum.

I began my new life – training to overcome my disability and focus on all my abilities. Life just kept giving back.

I moved to the mountains so I could ski all the time. I met my soul mate Rob.
We moved to Park City, Utah, and later we got married at the top of the mountain, and skied down in our wedding clothes.

In 2006 my new focus began, I wanted to be a visually impaired ski racer. I had a Vision4Gold. I trained every day at Park City Mountain Resort with my friend and guide Sally. We skied amazing together and made a great team.

I was determined to represent USA at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. The summer of 2008 Rob started to guide me full-time. Who better to trust and spend all my time with? We made commitment to the sport, to each other, and to my “vision.” Together we formed Team Vision4Gold.

We raced our way onto the national team, and competed in our first World Cup at the World Cup Finals in 2009. We won three bronze medals and this energy just fueled our passion for more.

In 2010 we raced the entire World Cup circuit. We won the Women’s Overall World Cup globe, and the super G globe. (Globes are awarded to the top person in the standings for the season.)

Team Vision4Gold then went on to the Paralympics as first husband and wife visually impaired ski race team to represent USA in the Winter Games. We qualified and raced in all five events. Best of all we brought home two bronze medals.

Today Team Vision4Gold is competing at the World Cup level and preparing for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

I think back to where my life might have been if my dad did not take me skiing. Would I have found my inner champion?