The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games start just 200 days from today.
With Sochi, Russia, as the backdrop from March 7-16, 2014, the Paralympic Winter Games feature seven disciplines of five sports, as recognized by the International Paralympic Committee, for a total of 72 medal events, including men's and women's standing snowboard cross, which will make its debut in Sochi as a part of the alpine skiing program.
The United States will compete in each of the five sports (alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling) contested in Sochi with an estimated team of more than 65 athletes. Here are 14 names you need to know on the Road to Sochi:
Steve Cash is the top goaltender for the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team.
Already a member of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, Steve Cash is one of the most respected goaltenders in the world. In 2009, he helped the United States to its first-ever IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships (A) title, starting each game. The United States Olympic Committee recognized him as the 2009 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. At the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, the second Games of his career, he did not allow a goal in five contests, stopping all 33 shots including a penalty shot attempt in the gold medal game. He received the “Best Male Athlete with a Disability” ESPY Award following the Games. Cash had a .923 save percentage at 2012 worlds. He also won a silver medal at the 2013 worlds. Cash was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) of the right knee in October 1992. At 3 years old, his leg was amputated.
In October 2002, Taylor Chace suffered a broken back and an incomplete spinal cord injury when he was hit during a hockey game as a member of the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s New Hampshire Monarchs at the age of 16. While studying at the University of New Hampshire less than two years later, Chace was introduced to sled hockey through the school's Northeast Passage program. He competed for the United States at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA won the bronze medal, and the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA won the gold medal. He was named the tournament’s top defenseman. Following the Games, the United States Olympic Committee recognized him as the 2010 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. His career has continued to flourish, even earning the IPC Athlete of the Month honor in December 2012 after he recorded the lone goal in Team USA’s 1-0 victory over Canada at the World Sledge Challenge. He was named best defenseman of 2013 worlds. Chance graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2011 with a sports studies degree.
Biathlon and cross-country skiing
Dan Cnossen, who competed in multiple sports at the 2011 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte for Navy/Coast Guard, hopes to make his Paralympic Games debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in biathlon and cross-country skiing. He joined the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing program in 2010. At the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis., he won four of the 13 medals claimed by Team USA, with two each in cross-country skiing and biathlon. He has qualified for the 2013 International Paralympic Committee World Cup Final in Sochi, Russia. Cnossen graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He is an active duty lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, where he is a U.S. Navy Seal. On the first day of his promotion to lieutenant, he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, resulting in the amputation of both legs. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V (for valor) from the Secretary of the Navy.
Jimmy Joseph, who is in the second position for the USA Curling Wheelchair Curling National Team, is one of the most experienced wheelchair curlers in the U. S. Curling since 2003, Joseph competed at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA was eighth, and the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games, where Team USA placed fourth. He has competed at seven World Curling Federation World Wheelchair Championships, highlighted by a bronze-medal appearance in 2008. Joseph is a member of the Utica Curling Club. He is married with a daughter.
Stephen Lawler, who was born with Spina bifida, made his entrance on to the international scene by claiming the silver medal in men’s sitting downhill at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain. It was an unexpected podium appearance for the young skier but he hopes it is just the start of his metallic Road to Sochi. A native of Burlington, Vt., he made the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Team for the first time in the 2011-12 season. Now a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Lawler started ski racing at 12 years old.
Team captain Taylor Lipsett, a forward, found sled hockey at the grocery store. In 2002, while shopping with his mom, the Texas native met a woman whose son-in-law had just won the gold medal in sled hockey at the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Games. The next weekend, Lipsett was on the ice trying sled hockey for the first time. Now, 11 years later, he is one of the top athletes on the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team with two Paralympic Winter Games medals, the gold medal in 2010 and the bronze medal in 2006. At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, he led the U.S. with five goals in five games. He helped Team USA to gold medals at the 2009 and 2012 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships (A). In 2012, he led the tournament in points (8), goals (6) and game-winning goals (3). He notched a hat trick and added an assist in the gold-medal game. He helped Team USA to a silver medal at the 2013 worlds. In July 2013, he earned his spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. Lipsett, who has a finance degree from Southern Methodist University, was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder sometimes known as “brittle bone disease”. He is married to Kathleen.
Patrick McDonald, a U.S. Army veteran, lost the use of his legs in 1991 when the armored personnel carrier he was riding in rolled on the way back from patrol in Korea. A life-long athlete, he turned to sport for rehabilitation. McDonald began curling in 2007. He competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA was fourth, and three World Curling Federation World Wheelchair Championships. McDonald became the Team USA skip in 2012. McDonald also enjoys golf and shooting. He is involved in breast cancer awareness and literacy causes. He and his wife, Carrie, have one daughter, Andie, and one son, Kaelen.
A three-time Paralympian in track and field, with 10 medals to her credit including three golds from the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Tatyana McFadden is one of the most celebrated U.S. Paralympic athletes in recent history. McFadden, who still actively competes in track, was recently named to the 2013-14 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team after only one season of competition. The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games would mark a homecoming for McFadden, who left Russia nearly 20 years ago. Born with spina bifida in St. Petersburg, McFadden was sent to an orphanage, where without a wheelchair, she was left to walk using her hands for the next six years. In 1994, she was adopted by Debbie McFadden, who was working as the commissioner of disabilities for the United States’ health department, and moved to the United States. Now she is one of the world’s best in two sports, recently becoming the first woman to win six world titles at an IPC Athletics World Championships in July 2013. Despite a hectic schedule with both cross-country skiing and track events, McFadden has started 2013 in an impressive fashion, winning the women’s wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon and following that up with a win at the London Marathon in the same week.
The Road to Sochi is also the road to recovery for Alana Nichols, a native of Farmington, N.M. After sustaining an injury in a training run, she withdrew from early events at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain, but returned to win her race of the non-medal team event. Team USA finished second in the team competition. She was then injured later in the summer during a training camp at Mt. Hood, Ore. Nichols had surgery on her shoulder but hopes to make a return to the slopes in time for Sochi. Nichols was the most decorated U.S. athlete at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, claiming four medals including two gold medals, a third of the 11 medals won overall by Team USA. Nichols also has a gold medal from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games (wheelchair basketball). In 2000, while snowboarding in Colorado, she attempted a back flip but over-rotated and landed with her back on a rock. She was instantly paralyzed from the waist down.
At the age of 19, Amy Purdy contracted Neisseria meningitis, a form of bacterial meningitis. Due to the disease, which affected her circulatory system, both of her legs had to be amputated below the knee and her spleen had to be removed. Two years later, she received a kidney transplant from her father. Her friends now refer to her by the nickname “Lucky”. Purdy, a Las Vegas native who co-founded Adaptive Action Sports, one of the top para-snowboard organizations in the country, is also a model and actress in addition to a world silver medalist. In 2012, she was a contestant on “The Amazing Race” reality television competition with her boyfriend. While the duo did not make it far in the race, Purdy has not fallen short on the slopes. At the test competition for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Purdy finished second. She also won a silver medal at the U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Championship behind Heidi Jo Duce.
Biathlon and cross-country skiing
Andy Soule was attending Texas A&M University as a member of the Corps of Cadets when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. Following 9/11, Soule left school to enlist in the U.S. Army. Soon after basic training, he was deployed to Afghanistan where an improvised explosive device detonated next to Soule's Humvee, resulting in double leg amputation. Looking for a way to stay active, Soule attended a cross-country skiing recruitment camp in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2005. He was instantly hooked on Nordic skiing. On the opening day of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games competition, Soule won the bronze medal in the men’s sitting 2.4-kilometer individual pursuit, becoming the first U.S. athlete to medal in biathlon at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games. Soule took the last two years off to study ballistics. Now he is back, eyeing Team USA’s first-ever gold medal in biathlon. Soule won the silver medal in the middle biathlon event at the 2013 IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis.
Evan Strong is currently ranked No. 1 internationally in men’s standing snowboard cross, beating teammates Keith Gabel and Mike Shea at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships. He also won the men's event at the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard Test Event, March 6, in Sochi, Russia. A native of Hawaii, he grew up wanting to be a professional skateboarder. With a few years’ experience under his belt, Strong was ready to begin traveling for skateboard competitions, until his entire life took a turn. Stephanie, his older sister, received a motorcycle for her 21st birthday. In 2004, when Strong was 17, he missed his ride to work and needed to borrow the motorcycle. A mile from home, Strong was struck by a drunk driver. She crossed over the line into oncoming traffic, striking the car in front of Strong and hitting him head on at full speed. His left leg was amputated three days later. After five surgeries in the week following the accident, Strong assured his family that he would skate again. He did. Later, he found snowboarding while at his uncle’s vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho. Strong now lives Nevada City, Calif., about an hour’s drive west of Lake Tahoe. He and his wife, Mariah, also operate their organic vegetarian restaurant, The Fix for Foodies.
Danelle Umstead, who is a visually impaired alpine skier, competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games with her husband Rob Umstead, who serves as her guide. In Vancouver, the husband and wife duo won bronze medals in the downhill and combined. She won on the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit. At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes blindness. Currently, her spotted vision limits her sight to less than five feet, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. There is no chance of return vision, nor is there a cure. She was also recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and central nervous system. A native of Plano, Texas, she once lived in Taos, N.M., and now resides in Park City, Utah, with her husband Rob and their son Brocton.
Born without much of his spine and then losing his legs at age 4, Tyler Walker of Franconia, N.H., made big gains every year in his quest to become one of the top mono-skiers in the world. He captured his first world cup win in 2004 in giant slalom and his first title in 2006, also in giant slalom. Walker is the 2009 Overall World Cup Downhill Champion. Vancouver marked the second Paralympic Winter Games competition for Walker, who is looking for his first medal in Sochi. At the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals in Sochi, Russia, Walker made his intentions for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games clear. He won the gold medal in the men’s sitting downhill race on the same course that will be used for the Games. Overall, Tyler Walker took home the men's sitting speed event trophy for the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup season. Walker is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire where he has degrees in geography and international affairs and minors in German and political science.
For more information on the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, visit teamusa.org/paralympicgames/.