Being the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) No. 1 ranked mono-skier in both super G and downhill skiing events, Laurie Stephens has had one of the most successful seasons on the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing Team as the team looks toward the world championships in La Molina, Spain, which start Wednesday. Stephens also holds the No. 2 spot in the world for both the slalom and giant slalom women’s sitting events.
Needless to say, Stephens (Wenham, Mass.) is an overall champion in alpine skiing.
Stephens, born with spinal bifida, was involved with many sports growing up in Massachusetts. When she was 12, her parents sent her to a weekend ski clinic for people with physical disabilities at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire. There is where she “fell in love with skiing.”
“I started going skiing every weekend, and when I was 14, I met Chris Devlin-Young,” said Stephens.
Devlin-Young (Campton, New Hampshire) was part of the New England Disabled Ski Team, and when Stephens saw the team’s passion for skiing, she knew she was where she wanted to be. She expressed how much she learned from Devlin-Young and how much more invested she became in the sport as a result of his coaching.
She also learned from fellow Team USA athlete Tyler Walker (Franconia, N.H.) who joined the team as well.
“We three have been together for a long time now, so it’s a very strong bond we have,” said Stephens about the teammates’ journey together.
To Stephens, choosing to concentrate on skiing over her other sport interests was an easy choice.
“I loved wheelchair racing, but skiing was different,” she said. “I could stay on the mountain from the time the lifts open until they close. Skiing all day long is something I will never get tired of.
“My dad skis and my brother snowboards, so being able to keep up with them and spending time with them on the mountain has always been important to me.
“Skiing allows me to be anywhere and do anything on the mountain and not feel as if I have a disability at all.”
Recently transitioning to a new mono-ski, Stephens is still tearing up the mountainside to prepare for the IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships. The world championships and world cup competitions, to her, are viewed as an extensive practice to try different terrain and take a look at the competition.
“There are a lot of good athletes, but it’s just getting you ready for all the pressure that goes into the Games,” she said. “I have a lot I want to improve on, but I focus on always skiing better than I did the day before.”
The switch to monoski has made her training a bit more difficult just from learning the technical aspects of the equipment and training her body to learning new tactics. But with all this training, Stephens has been able to help others in her road to being a Sochi hopeful.
“While training in Aspen, we ski with a developmental program almost every day. The skiers want to eventually ski in the worlds, so being able to ski with them helps us and them progress,” said Stephens. “It’s really cool to give them advice and help them move forward in their skiing careers.”
Being a part of other’s growth has given Stephens the mentality to improve and sharpen her skiing skills. Instead of focusing on a specific event, she is honing in on her overall skiing performance.
“I want to ski better than every day before,” she said. “I want to improve every single run and I’ll never stop trying to get better. It’s always possible.”
Becoming a better skier can take its toll on an athlete. How does she unwind after a long day of hitting the slopes? Knitting. Hats to be exact. Stephens enjoys the soothing and relaxing act of creating warmth for her teammates’ heads and hearts. The noggin nurturers she knits can be seen on her, her teammates and her family to show support for Team USA and the chilling sport of alpine skiing.
Having the support of family and friends is what pushes athletes to be the best they can. The Stephens’ family has encouraged Laurie throughout her life and continues to be the stability she relies on through her successes.
“It’s really great when my family can come to the races and support me,” she said. “It’s a good feeling knowing they are seeing all the hard work I’ve put in and the training I’ve done to get this far.”
Stephens is a strong contender for a world title and a hopeful for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.