Team Vision4Gold in Vancouver
In this blog, alpine skier Danelle Umstead recounts her 2010 Paralympic Winter Games experience.
March 6, 2010 – Team Processing with Team USA
We arrived to Denver
and started team processing immediately. We spent several hours trying on our clothes from Polo Ralph Lauren and Nike. U.S. Paralympics put together a Q&A for new Paralympians to discuss any questions or concerns to veteran Paralympians. This was very helpful going into the Games.
March 7, 2010 – Depart to Canada
Our flight left Denver around 11am. Arrived in Vancouver very excited for the adventure we are about to endure. We had two large buses waiting for Team USA at the airport. They took us to the athlete village in Whistler. What an amazing place. The village had flags for every country outside. We were so spoiled there with endless support and things to do. There was a vitamin water bar, movie room, state of the art workout facility, unbelievable food court, medical clinic, full dentist office, and much more. In our building Team USA housed the 3rd and 4th floors. It was dorm style but very nice accommodations. Coca-Cola supplied endless amounts of soda, water and juices. Wow…we were being spoiled.
March 8, 2010 – We are 2010 Paralympians
We woke up feeling an endless amount of pride. No matter what from this day forward Rob and I will always be Paralympians. We have worked so hard to get here and we came in style. Coming into the Games we are qualified in all 5 events, and representing our country.
Today was a day off. Rob, Allison and I decided to go to the race arena to check it out before the Games begin. We also took advantage of the fitness center each day for recovery and physical strength.
Being our first Paralympic experience… I cannot tell you how truly amazing it was.
March 9, 2010 - Free Day
This was time we could go out to free ski and get familiar with our surroundings. The volunteers all around Whistler Creekside were wearing blue coats… they were called smurfs. They were always so helpful and kind to everyone.
We went to the garage where all the countries’ technicians did their work. Jared, our team technician, and his crew were just as excited, and working hard to tune our skis to perfection. Our coaches were out inspecting the course to give us the feedback we need. We went out on our giant slalom skis to feel the snow conditions and just get some turns in.
U.S. Paralympics put together an outstanding support staff for all of Team USA. They made sure there was nothing for us to worry about but our own skiing. Team USA staff took care of everything. P&G took care of all the Paralympian mothers by giving them a more than generous Visa gift card. Thank you to all who made this adventure amazing.
March 10, 2010 – Downhill Training Day/ Rob’s Birthday
Here we are, the beginning of everything. Every athlete, coach, physical trainer, technician, volunteer and organization worked hard to be here, and are ready for the Games to begin. This was Rob’s birthday. A birthday could not get better than this - a downhill training day. He called it fantasy camp. J
We did our inspection of the course and were ready to go fast. The nerves have not hit me at all. We were purely excited to get going. This is our favorite event.
When we got into the starting gate, the fog had rolled in. It was so thick that Rob could not see the course. The hold lasted approximately five minutes. Then the fog lifted and we had a very strong run. In the woman’s visually impaired class we had the second fastest run. After they ran all the visually impaired women the fog rolled back in really thick, and there was a course hold for a couple of hours. My teammates were up there not able to leave the start, waiting to do their downhill training runs. Most of the field was able to run the course, except standing men. They still needed to get a training run in and the forecast was not good.
March 11, 2010 – Downhill Training Day Two
Downhill training day was canceled due to weather.
March 12, 2010 – Final Downhill Training Day/ Opening Ceremonies
This was another cancellation due to weather conditions.
Opening ceremonies was in Vancouver at BC Place.
We had a choice to stay through the entire ceremonies, which would end around midnight; or march in the Parade of Nations and then get on a bus to leave back to Whistler athlete village. We decided to march then go back to our room because we had a downhill race in the morning. If we had stayed it would not have been a great athletic move for me, even though it was truly disappointing to leave.
We were all dressed up in our Polo Ralph Lauren outfits looking snazzy and ready to represent USA. Our flag barer was Heath Calhoun, who is an Iraq war veteran. He was so honored to be the selected athlete, and carried the U.S. flag with true pride. The crowd consisted of over 60,000 people. You could feel the excitement in the air. When USA marched out the roaring from the crowd went through your veins, and made your fingers tingle. It was an electrifying feeling.
March 13, 2010 - Day 1/ Downhill Race Day
This is called the waiting game. The downhill race was scheduled to take off. Standing men still have not had their training run yet. So the plan was to run the standing men first for their training run, and then run them in the race in the normal race order. You officially have to have one downhill training run before you can race. The men got their run in… and then the fog rolled in right after that.
We all spent hours waiting at the start wondering if there was going to be a race. They truly tried to get it going, but the weather would not give us a break. The waiting game finally ended and they canceled the race. At least the men got their training run in. Waiting at the top was tough because you start to get stiff, lethargic, and mentally drained. So in the end it was athletically better that we did not run. It was nice to hang out with all the athletes from different countries and get to know each other better.
There are always positives coming from negative situations.
March 14, 2010 - Day 2 / Slalom Race
The IPC decided to change the schedule for races due to the weather pattern so slalom was next. Time to switch gears. Slalom is defiantly our toughest event … but we were ready to go. Our bib number was 5. In the start Rob and I pound our fists together and go through the start ready to race our best. The run felt pretty strong until we got to the last pitch. My ski tip hit the gate, I lost my ski, and crashed. We were for sure disappointed but were not going to let that race define us. Team Vision4Gold will just focus on our races to come.
March 15, 2010 – Day 3 / Training Day
Today was the race for our teammates in the standing class, which meant we were able to watch their races and try to get some training in for our giant slalom the next day. The weather was wet, and snow conditions were very tough.
March 16, 2010 – Day 4/ Giant Slalom Race
Wet and nasty! It was pouring down rain. Trying to adapt to the conditions were very hard. It was raining so hard. Our technician Jared and Kevin our personal trainer had built us shelter at the start with a tarp to keep the team as dry as possible. I was very unsure of racing today. The rain would collect on your goggles and what little vision I had was taken away. This was very scary. We went through the gate and the run was very tough… I skied very defensive and scared.
We inspected the second run and I was convinced it was not safe for me to run. Rob said to do my best and listen to him. So I did. The run was an act of survival. It was not my best skiing. At the final pitch I crashed and had to hike. We finished the race but not where we had hoped to be. We went through the media zone and a reporter had asked me, “Are you worried that you have crashed every race now?” I answered we treat every race individually, and I was not worried. I have to be honest after she said that it did leave me thinking …WHY?
When we got back to our room our gloves, clothes, everything was so wet it took days to dry. Another day with many things we had to adapt to. Even though it did not work to our advantage we all learn to adapt.
March 17, 2010 Day 5/ Rest Day
The standing class raced the giant slalom today. I spent a lot of my time thinking about what the reporter had said to me, and why I had crashed basically in the same place in the races.
March 18, 2010 Day 5/ Downhill Race
Our bib number was 2. Wow it has been 7 days since we had our downhill training day. This is not a typical situation. We did not let this bother us… we were focused and really excited to run the downhill.
On the chair lift after our inspection of the course, I had told Rob I have been thinking a lot about what the reporter had said to me. There may be a solution for that final pitch. Normally when a visually impaired athlete is on course and goes through the finish there is silence. There should not be any audio distractions that could take away our other senses. Even though the crowd was exciting, and so surprising to hear, it was distracting and throwing off my balance. The solution was for Rob to yell commands the entire time down the pitch, hoping that I could not hear anything but him.
Our run was fast, fun, and exhilarating. There were a few mistakes but I did not let that bother me … it just made me want to go faster. We got to the final pitch and Rob screamed, and yelled, and it worked. We were in second place behind Canada, but there were many more racers to come. This was harder than the race itself… this waiting game was the toughest one yet. Several racers came down and we held our position in second place until the Slovakians who had a strong run, which put them in second and bumped us into third place. Others came down and we held on to third place to win the bronze!
We had the medal ceremony in Whistler Village at the medals plaza. We got all dressed up in our Nike podium apparel. It was a sharp looking outfit. I was tired and said to Amber, “I really do not want to go… it is just another medal ceremony.” I ate those words.
It was not just another medal ceremony. The excitement in the plaza was unbelievable. There were at least 5,000 fans cheering on all the winners from the downhill race. When the medal was placed around my neck, and he said…” you have made your country proud” tears filled my eyes, lump in my throat, and my heart began to pound out of my chest.
I was squeezing Rob’s hand so hard… because of him, his commitment to the dream…”WE DID IT” Even though our Vision is 4 Gold at this moment it did not matter…WE DID IT!!!!! Together…a family affair, a team, a husband and wife duo… WE DID IT! Then we kissed on the podium…that kiss was so meaningful. It is incredible what love, trust, and commitment can do. There are no boundaries for us. After we stepped of the podium I asked Rob where Team USA coaches and team were standing so I could throw my flowers to them. He pointed me in the right direction and said throw them at 12oclock. I threw them hard, and Steve Raymond, the Chef De Mission for the USA, caught the flowers. It could not get better than that!!! He is such a huge supporter of Team USA.
March 19, 2010 – Day 6 / Super G Race
The IPC decided to change the race order due to snow conditions. This news was very unsettling for me. Their reason was that the snow was firmer in the morning. The men would run first, and then the women’s field would run last. This is unheard of for me. I never knew this was an option. We always run first. We did our inspection run, and then had three hours until we raced. During this time we were able to watch the men run the race. There was too much time to think and listen to others.
I thought I was in control… until we got into the starting gate. Nerves got the best of me. I planted my poles over the start wand, my body started to shake, and I thought I was going to throw up. We had 10 seconds and it was time to go. My skiing was solid just tentative. I knew it could have been faster, but I was unsure of what it was going to be like running so late. We ended up in 4th place. I knew I had to take this day as a learning tool. Find something to make tomorrow a better race.
March 20, 2010 – Day 7 / Super Combined
On this day we decided to try a new approach. The waiting game was really hard. We decided when we got to the start we would put some headphones on me so I could stay in my own zone. Well, there were some great songs on my iPod and I started dancing in the start like I was at a night club. This really helped me… and I think it helped some of the staff too. Kevin (team personal trainer) was dancing with me. Jess (personal trainer) was singing with me, and the rest were just laughing.
We were bib number 58 today. That is right #58. This was the first time super combined has been an event at the Paralympics. Super Combined is one run of super g and one run of slalom. Fist was the super g run. We had a pretty good run, ended up in third, a bit off the first two, but a strong lead over the rest of the field. Rob and I knew we needed that buffer going into slalom. All we needed to do was hold our 3rd place position.
This actually was extremely tough for me mentally. I had a full on panic attack. I told Rob “I can not handle the pressure.” He was my rock. Rob put me in a snow bank and told me, “WE can do this.” I have had pretty bad luck this season. Finishing slalom is very seldom for me. Rob put on my headphones, and threw me into a snow bank. This time the music was calming music. I needed to calm my nerves and try to relax. When I finally put myself back together, I gave my husband a big hug, and tried to stay focused. We went into the gate pounded our fists together as always, and we were on course.
My focus was just to finish the race. Our lead was strong from the super g run, so I just needed to finish. While we were racing down my son came into my head singing a song he always sings. Some of the words are like this… Just keep trying, just keep trying, You can do it, you can do it. We went through the finish and at this moment I did not care if we held our third place position. The tears started pouring from my eyes. We did it… we finished a slalom race. I was so proud of my husband and his strength to keep us going.
The medal ceremony was at the finish today and it was another bronze for team Vision4Gold.
This was our first Paralympic Games and only our second season as a team. We are proud of our accomplishments.
March 21, 2010 – Closing Ceremonies
Good things must come to an end.
My teammate Monte Meier was honored to be the U.S. flag bearer for the closing ceremonies. He is an amazing athlete and teammate. Team USA had a good time dressing up in our closing ceremony outfits by Polo Ralph Lauren. It was raining so hard until we started the parade. The skies cleared and the closing ceremonies were a very memorable event.
We had such a phenomenal experience at our first Paralympic Games. We learned a lot on our journey, and know where to apply it. Vision4Gold knows our “vision” will become our destiny at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia
SPECIAL THANKS TO…
The grandparents for loving our son, and taking good care of him while we are on the road.
All our friends and family for your love and support
U.S. Paralympics who provided an unbelievable amount of resources to help us “Make our dreams into reality”
The sponsors of the 2010 Paralympic Games – there would not be a Paralympics without your support. You are changing so many lives through your sponsorships.
Vision4Gold Sponsors (www.vision4gold.com )
Powdr Corporation - for believing in us, our dream, and helping make our athletic goals possible.
Challenged Athletes Foundation – for years of support for us, and so many others
Equipment Sponsors – POC for our helmets, back protectors, and goggles
Volkl – our ski’s … Tecnica – for our boots… Komperdell for our poles
Cardo Systems – for our headsets
Turner Network Support Group – for the autograph cards and pins
The coaching staff for season long guidance and support “believing we can do it”
Technicians for making our skis fast, personal trainers for making my body work when I thought it would not.
All our teammates for their friendship, support, and guidance.
Team USA staff, and smurfs for taking good care of Bettylynn (my guide dog) while we were racing.
Joe Kusomoto for all the photography
The entire Team USA staff for EVERYTHING!
Canada for hosting an amazing2010 Paralympic Winter Games