Nichols' career on the upswing, thanks to downhill

Dec. 10, 2009, 4:21 p.m. (ET)

You would never guess by speaking with her the number of barriers Alana Nichols has overcome so far in her life. At just 26 years old Nichols has conquered several obstacles that most individuals would succumb to in defeat. 

Nichols' father passed away when she was young and her mother allowed her grandparents to adopt and raise her in Farmington, N.M., in addition to her two sisters and brother. There, she grew up with a normal childhood until November 19, 2000 a date she will never forget.  

While back country skiing with some high school friends near Durango, Colo. Nichols over-rotated on a back flip and was paralyzed on impact. The high school senior was air lifted out of the back country and flown home to New Mexico.  Her life was changed forever.

"I had more visitors than the hospital had ever seen," says Nichols, "high school friends would constantly stop by."

Despite the frequent guests, not everyone was empathetic of the new changes as a result of her accident. After surgery and rehab Nichols returned to finish high school in February. Though she graduated with the rest of her class, things were remarkably different.

Nichols recalls her recovery, "for someone who broke their back it's a journey of being reborn and learning how to live again and rediscovering who you are as a person with a disability, I'm still doing that to this day and it certainly wasn't easy going back, she says, high school kids are immature, myself included."

Recently Nichols celebrated her nine year "Gimp Day." She explains, "Gimp Day was the day I was injured and I celebrate it like a birthday day, I spent the whole day skiing, it kind of comes full circle and for me it's another day I'm alive."

Her optimism has fueled her with energy to accomplish an impressive athletic career. Nichols is a two sport athlete winning a gold medal in wheelchair basketball at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games; however her focus now is making the 2010 U.S. Paralympic Team in alpine skiing.

Nichols returned to skiing in 2002 and first experienced mono-skiing at The Santa Fe Mountain and Resort and was offered a scholarship to train.

In describing her favorite part about skiing Nichols laughs and says, "probably the ski, before getting serious and adding "being in a chair you just don't get to move that fast very often so I love when I do get on my ski and get to explore the terrains, be with nature, and look off the top of mountains, that's my favorite part."

Nichols now trains with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo., a program that she credits for her rapid improvement. Porkchop, as they call her says, "The coaching staff is a bunch of jokers, and are always poking fun which keeps it light and prevents skiing from being too heavy."

Since graduating last May with a master's degree in kinesiology from the University of Alabama, and winning the gold medal in Beijing she is putting all of her focus on racing her best.

"My overall goals are to ski well in each race and to ski in the moment, one race at a time, and to do well in each race, but of course I want to defend my national title and make the U.S. Paralympic Team. 

Part of her inspiration and drive has come from her brother, who passed away earlier this year.

"My brother was very involved when I played basketball and when I started skiing. He was always rooting for me and was planning to come to Vancouver before he passed away, he's been a huge inspiration to me and a big reason why I'm still skiing and I always remember that he is still here with me and encouraging me."