It was not long ago that Jamie Stanton was a junior at Rochester Adams High School in Rochester, Mich., and captain of both the varsity skiing and golf teams.
It was around that same time that Stanton said he watched the television broadcast of the slalom event at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games with his mom.
“I told her, ‘I can do that! I can ski just like that!’” he said.
Flash forward to 2013, which finds Stanton currently ranked as the No. 1 men’s standing skier in the United States.
“Now here I am, and that’s exactly what I’m doing,” Stanton said of competing for a spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. “I never had any doubt in myself that I could do anything that I set my mind to.”
The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games are set for March 7-16.
Three years ago, the University of Denver sophomore had never considered participating in adaptive sports, or competing against other disabled athletes. According to Stanton, his prosthetic leg really didn't make a whole lot of difference to his athletic performance.
When Stanton was 6 months old, doctors amputated his right leg below the knee after diagnosing him with fibular hemimelia, which is a growth deficiency of the fibula. Stanton’s parents put him on skis when he was 3, refusing to allow their son to grow up thinking he was disabled or impaired in any way.
“My parents were adamant about letting me do all kinds of different sports,” Stanton said. “They wanted me to grow up being a normal kid, playing all kinds of sports. … They did a fantastic job at it.”
“I’ve played able-bodied sports my entire life,” Stanton added. “Everyone I competed with was not disabled in any way.”
That all changed in 2011 when a friend, who is also an adaptive skier, suggested that Stanton participate in the Michigan Adaptive Sports State Championships ski races. Stanton won his race by more than eight seconds — a feat unheard of in a sport in which most races are determined by hundredths of a second.
“When that happened, that’s when I knew that I really had a shot at doing something special,” Stanton said.
He returned to the state championships the following year and once again dominated the competition, taking home a gold medal. It was then that Stanton decided he wanted try his hand at national competition, with the goal of qualifying for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
During that event, Erik Petersen, the National Sports Center for the Disabled’s director of alpine, Nordic/biathlon and snowboard competition, approached Stanton. He suggested that Stanton attend a week-long training camp in Breckenridge, Colo.
Following the training camp, Petersen sent Stanton to Copper Mountain, Colo., for his first international skiing competition.
“I won two gold medals (slalom and giant slalom) in the junior division out of four days of racing,” Stanton recalled. “I was surprised that I did as well as I did.”
It was at about that same time that Stanton was awarded the prestigious Willy Schaeffler Scholarship for disabled athletes at Denver, which provides financial assistance to a disabled athlete of outstanding character, academic achievement and athletic performance. The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition, room and board and other fees, including a year at a university abroad, for a total of five years.
“The scholarship allows me to take the winter quarter off to compete,” Stanton said.
During that time, Stanton trains with former Denver ski coach Kurt Smitz at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere up there,” Stanton said. “Everyone talks about skiing all the time, and everyone is so excited about getting to go out and ski every day. It’s just an absolutely awesome experience.”
The training hours he has put in on the slopes have paid off for Stanton who, after spending a year on the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Development Team, was named to the national team for the 2013-14 season.
His season started in August with his first International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup competition in Coronet Peak, New Zealand.
Stanton’s outstanding performance earned him the bronze medal in the slalom event and a place on the podium with two of the world’s top-ranked adaptive skiers.
“I had about 50 million different emotions going through my head at the starting gate,” Stanton said. “Then I ended up finishing behind Adam Hall who, at that time, was ranked No. 1 in the world, and Mitch Gourley, who was in the top five in the world. That’s a pretty breathtaking and surreal experience.”
“On the podium, I teared up a little bit, but had a big smile on my face,” he added. “I knew that I had worked so hard for that moment and it was finally there.”
The next stop for Stanton was the world cup race in Thredbo, Australia, where he served notice that he was a force to be reckoned with by taking home two silver medals, in giant slalom and slalom.
Stanton showed no signs of slowing down last week when he competed at the Disabled Sports USA NorAm giant slalom and slalom Races at Copper Mountain and garnered a gold medal in the slalom event.
“I felt probably the most confident I’ve ever felt going into a race,” Stanton said. “I don’t think I had one mistake for the entire run.”
Despite having what he describes as “one of the best runs of my entire life,” Stanton was still surprised to find himself at the top of the timesheet at the conclusion of the race.
“I was looking at the time sheet and I couldn’t find my name,” he said. “I went to the next page and there I was sitting in first place. It was a little humbling because that was the biggest field and the most competitive field I’ve ever raced in — and to be sitting in first place was great.”
Stanton continued with outstanding performances at the event, taking home bronze in the giant slalom the following day.
With only a handful of race dates left in the season leading up to the Paralympic Winter Games, Stanton has one specific day in mind: February 1, 2014 — the date he hopes to have earned enough points to make the U.S. Paralympic Team by.
The 2014 U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team nominees will be announced by Feb. 17. The United States Olympic Committee will name the entire 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team for alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling on Feb. 21.
“It would be incredible to go to Sochi,” Stanton said. “We live in the best country in the world, and to have the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the Games is such a huge accomplishment.”