The "Going for the Gold" series kicked off our One-Year-Countdown to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. We will feature a different 2010 U.S. Olympic or Paralympic hopeful each week with a vodcast on the first and second Friday of every month.
(WINTER PARK, Colo.) - Most college students spend their days going to class, writing papers and studying, but for Elista Storey (Sun Valley, Idaho) and Brad Washburn (Winter Park, Colo.), school is another activity to add to their already busy schedules.
Both are 2010 U.S. Paralympic Team hopefuls who have been competing on the international level for years.
They live and train together in Winter Park, Colo. and have been friends since Storey was 10 years old and Washburn was 12 years old.
"Between school, work and living life, I try to get in as much training as possible," said Storey. "I'm just trying to get everything done."
For Storey, getting everything done means juggling school, work, her four year relationship with Washburn, taking care of the couple's dog, Summit, traveling and being a Paralympic athlete.
"It means a lot to be a Paralympic athlete," said Washburn. "I've strived for it my whole life. Now I'm finally here."
Storey and Washburn both traveled to Torino for the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games and although neither stood on the podium, they were both happy to finally be a part of the Games.
They saw the excitement of winning a gold medal when their friend and teammate Allison Jones (Colorado Springs, Colo.) accomplished that feat in Torino.
"I just remember her running over and giving me a giant hug," said Washburn. "It was cool to see her win."
"That day was the most memorable for the whole team," said Storey. "We were all so excited for Allison. It was just a great day for the U.S."
Storey and Washburn now hope to experience that excitement for themselves one year from now in Vancouver.
"I hope to podium in the next Paralympics," said Washburn. "I've achieved one medal on the World Cup circuit so far this season. I think it's going to be good."
The 22 year old has been training and racing a lot more in preparation for Vancouver, hoping to improve upon his 10th place finish in slalom at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games.
Storey has the same dream for Vancouver. Just out of medal contention in Torino, the 20 year old has been preparing by "getting as much snow time as possible, training hard and racing."
Neither takes what they have achieved for granted, but both know their role as a Paralympic athlete goes beyond training.
"It is important to share your story," said Storey. "Just getting the knowledge of athletes with physical disabilities out into the world is important. As long as you are telling people, they will know about it and be more open-minded about it."
Born in Bulgaria, Storey knows how important it is for people to be open-minded. She was born without a knee or ankle joint in her right leg and a deformed left hand.
Storey spent the first five years of her life in an orphanage in Bulgaria before Janis and Gary Storey of Sun Valley, Idaho adopted her in 1992.
The Sun Valley community has always been very supportive of Storey, who had multiple surgeries when she was 6 years old, including one to remove her right leg.
Following in the footsteps of her three older brothers, Storey was racing on the Sun Valley ski team by the time she was nine. At 16, she became one of the youngest skiers to ever make the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team.
Never letting her disability get in the way of her accomplishments, Storey competed on both the able-bodied and disabled ski teams at Sun Valley.
Sharing her story has helped other Paralympic hopefuls follow their dreams including 12-year-old Meghan Erickson.
"When I met Elitsa it was the first time I ever saw anyone with almost my exact disability," said Erickson. "Seeing what she has accomplished, I knew that I could too."
Washburn is concerned for the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team and is glad to see kids as young as Erickson actively pursuing skiing.
"We need more athletes," said Washburn. "Our team is diminishing. We used to have 20 to 30 people and now it is down to 12."
He wants other athletes to experience what he does on the slopes: freedom.
Washburn was only 11 months old when he lost his right leg below the knee. The Highland Ranch, Colo. native was up on skis just four years later and at the age of eight he was ready to race down the mountain.
It wasn't until the 2008 season that Washburn really made his mark in competitive skiing. Not only did he finish in the top 10 of eight World Cup races, he went on to take the national slalom title.
"It's an amazing feeling knowing you are one of the top athletes in the world going out there and giving it your all," said Washburn. "You are the best the U.S. has to offer."
For him there is no other feeling than racing down the mountain at the highest speeds. For her it is the "burn in the legs after a day of long training that just makes you feel like you have accomplished a good day."
Both have one reason in common as to why they spend their days on the mountain: to represent their country at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.