Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah) had never heard of adaptive skiing prior to the accident which resulted in the amputation of both her legs. It was her brother who first introduced her to the sport that has brought her so much joy, her husband and a Paralympic gold medal.
Victor's brother was a back country skier living in Durango, Colo. at the time of her accident. He had seen adaptive skiing before, but never thought to discuss it with his sister. Accustomed to the sight of mono-skiers jumping off cliffs and racing down the mountain, Victor's brother had only one thing to tell her when he first saw her in the hospital.
"Once he realized I didn't have a head injury and he could see that my spirit was still intact there was kind of like this huge sigh of relief," Victor said. "He thought, oh wow she is going to be okay. Next thought, she can ski."
Victor laughs about the moment now.
"I told him to let me get off life support first and then we can talk about skiing."
It was her brother's passion for the sport that made her get on the mountain again. Her first ski lesson also happened to be the first time she met her future husband, Marcel, who explained to her that there was no such thing as disabled skiing.
"He explained to me that skiing whether you are visually impaired, one leg, three legs, mono ski, backwards, you have to point that ski down the hill and make it turn and make it stop," Victor said. "The physics of skiing doesn't change regardless of how much you have or how little you have to work with, so he was there to teach me skiing."
From that point on Victor never felt disabled. She learned to adapt to be the best at the sport she now calls her "driving force."
"My brother's love for it is very much paralleled to my husband's love and passion for skiing and it's really been a life saver," Victor said. "They are two of the most important guys in my life and they introduced me to this sport that is not only the driving force of my life, but it is also what brings me a tremendous amount of joy."
Not to mention the hardware she has collected because of the sport.
The two-time Paralympian has two Paralympic medals (gold and bronze), is a four-time World Champion, has won numerous National Championships and World Cup overall titles and most recently won three titles at the 2009 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships, including the first gold medal ever awarded at an IPC event in the super combined.
"To me, (winning the gold in the super combined) was very exciting because it was the first time we had super combined in a World Championship event," Victor said. "Now that it is part of the IPC and will be raced in Vancouver, I am definitely going for the super combined gold."
Victor has a track record of accomplishing anything she puts her mind to. After fracturing her wrist at the start of the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino many counted her out, but she never counted herself out. Victor went on to win the gold in the slalom on the very last day of competition. It is that determination that helped her recover from her accident in time for her first Paralympic Games in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
"Three years after my accident I had 11 reconstructive surgeries and spent a great deal of time in the hospital," Victor said. "Right away Marcel put the idea in my mind that I don't think you have a chance of making it, but in three years the Games are going to be in your own country and if you commit and dedicate yourself there is a chance you can make it."
Victor made the 2002 U.S. Paralympic Ski Team the night before the downhill training began. The feeling was everything her husband described and more.
"When I get to go out on the second largest playing field in the world and compete and be an ambassador representing my country, there is nothing that means more than that," Victor said. "There is no greater feeling of pride and purpose than giving your best as your represent your country in such a significant sporting event."
Torino is Victor's most memorable Paralympic Games because of what she was finally able to accomplish.
"I got to hear the national anthem play in Salt Lake City because of Sarah Will [winning a gold] and in 2006 because of me," Victor said. "To know that you are responsible for raising your flag to the top and for the playing of the national anthem is one of the greatest feelings I have ever known. I look forward to hearing our national anthem in Canada for the super combined, slalom and giant slalom. I'm going for it!"
This year's World Cup finals were held in Whistler, the site of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. It allowed the athletes to have a test run on the actual course being raced on during the Paralympics. Victor will be watching film of her races from the finals to prepare for the Games just as she did for Torino. Her focus will be on the newly added super combined.
"I won the very first super combined in the World Championship this year and that would be the ultimate way to finish the Paralympics next year," Victor said. "To reclaim the gold in the slalom and also to win the super combined because it would solidify people knowing that I can win gold in the super g and slalom."
Victor's downhill runs will have a special meaning next year as the course shares the name of her husband's late brother, Franz. Franz was also a ski racer.
"My goal is to go out there and dedicate my runs and hopefully wins to Marcel's brother," Victor said. "I believe he would want us out there skiing and giving it our all."
Victor currently trains full-time for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in hopes of bringing home gold for the United States. After years of training she has a complete understanding of what each race comes down to.
"You have a minute and a half in a race course to show all your training, all your hard work, your commitment for the last four years and it all boils down to this one and a half minute," Victor said.
After her minute and half in 2010, Victor hopes the national anthem will be playing again.