Countdown to Sochi: Nine days
With nine days until the start of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia, meet nine members of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team who were born overseas.
Cristina Albert, snowboarding
Born in Dragasani, Romania, with amniotic band syndrome and a clubfoot, snowboarder Cristina Albert was adopted at 3 years old and underwent several reconstructive surgeries after moving to the United States. At 12, her left foot was amputated due to a staph infection following surgery on her foot. But her amputation did not stop her from becoming active. Three years ago, she started her career as a Paralympic snowboarder, and has experienced rapid success. She secured her spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team in February. In addition to being a Paralympic snowboarder, she is also a veterinary tech.
Jasmin Bambur, alpine skiing
When he was just 12 years old, Jasmin Bambur and his family fled Bosnia because of war. First they went to Kosovo, but as the situation there became more dangerous, Bambur’s father located a home in the United States for Jasmin through a high school foreign exchange program. Bambur excelled in the U.S. and joined multiple sports teams in soccer, basketball and tennis before finding his passion in team handball. In 2000, Bambur played for the U.S. National Handball Team while enrolled as a student at Middle Georgia College. One night after a long day of training, Bambur fell asleep at the wheel for only a moment, but his car crashed and he sustained a spinal cord injury. At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, he competed for Serbia. In 2010, he was granted his U.S. citizenship, and will compete for Team USA in 2014.
Omar Bermejo, Nordic skiing
In 2000, 17-year-old Omar Bermejo, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, joined the United States Marine Corps. “The Marines were my way of life until a motorcycle accident took what I thought was going to be the rest of my life in just a couple of seconds,” he wrote in his blog. Just four months after his right arm was amputated as a result of the accident, he rediscovered sport. “It was time to start dreaming again, dreaming of becoming a Paralympic cross-country skiing athlete.” He will compete in Sochi with Team USA.
Jen Lee, sled hockey
Sergeant Jen Lee, who is currently on active duty with the United States Army, had his left leg amputated above the knee after injuring it in a motorcycle accident in 2009. He was introduced to sled hockey by “Operation Comfort,” an organization dedicated to assisting injured U.S. service personnel at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Now he is a four-time member of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team and will make his Paralympic debut in Sochi. Lee, a goaltender, is also a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program unit out of Fort Carson, Colo., and is stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He is a lifelong athlete, having played varsity basketball, and he helped his Westmoor High School track and field team to two district titles in three seasons. He was born in Taipei, Taiwan, but grew up in San Francisco.
Oksana Masters, Nordic skiing
Oksana Masters became one of the biggest stories out of the London 2012 Paralympic Games as she and her teammate Rob Jones won a bronze medal in rowing in the trunk and arms mixed double sculls. Masters was named U.S. Rowing’s Female Athlete of the Year for 2012, the first Paralympic athlete ever to receive that honor. Now her attention is set on biathlon and cross-country skiing, a sport she won a world cup final medal in earlier this year. Masters was born in Ukraine, with both of her legs damaged by in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident. Masters was adopted when she was 7 years old and began rowing at 13. She started Nordic skiing following the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Tatyana McFadden, Nordic skiing
Tatyana McFadden was adopted from St. Petersburg, Russia, at age 6. Born with spina bifida that left her paralyzed below the waist, McFadden walked on her hands at her orphanage and did not use a wheelchair until after her adoption. Once in her new hometown of Clarksville, Md., McFadden began to excel in athletics. She competed at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games in wheelchair racing, winning 10 medals including three gold medals. With the encouragement of Alana Nichols, the first U.S. woman to win Paralympic gold in the summer and winter Games, McFadden tried Nordic skiing for the first time last year. She earned a national title at her first U.S. Adaptive Nordic Skiing National Championship in January 2013. She will make her debut at the Paralympic Winter Games in March.
Augusto Perez, Nordic skiing
In 2000, Augusto “Goose” Perez, born in Madrid, Spain, was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma at the age of 28. While Perez defied the odds of his rare cancer over a 14 year period, the cancer returned, and in 2003 he had to have his left leg amputated in an effort to save his life. After adapting to his new life as an amputee, he took to wheelchair curling and competed in the 2006 and 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. After his cancer returned for the fourth time, Perez switched to Nordic skiing, which he thought would help his fitness and make him more able to fight his cancer. He will battle for the podium at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Nordic skiing while battling his cancer. He is a stage IV cancer patient with high grade soft tissue sarcoma.
Melanie Schwartz, alpine skiing
Born in Toronto, Canada, Melanie Schwartz started skiing at a young age and began her racing career in 2007. At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, she skied in four events for Team Canada, highlighted by a 10th finish in super combined. Schwartz is a dual citizen and transitioned to the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Team in 2012. She currently trains with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club in Aspen, Colo. Schwartz, a congenital leg amputee who is also missing most of her right hip, races on one ski with two outriggers, which are similar to poles with ski tips at the bottom.
Andy Soule, Nordic skiing
Andy Soule was born at Torrejon Air Force Base in Madrid, Spain. Following 9/11, Soule left school at Texas A&M University to enlist in the 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 two years off to study ballistics but made a triumphant return in the 2012-13 season. He won the silver medal in the middle biathlon event at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis.