My name is Staci Mannella. I was born with achromatopsia, a congenital condition that limits my visual acuity to three feet and also causes extreme sensitivity to light. I see virtually nothing when I am skiing down the mountain but I am in radio contact with my guide, Kim Seevers, who helps me race. I do not fear what I cannot see.
I have a vision for my future. In March, I want to compete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in alpine skiing, which would mark first ever Games. The 2014 U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team will be nominated in about a month.
Here are 14 things you should know about me as I strive towards Sochi:
1. I am the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Ski Team.
I got named to the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Development Team two years ago, but this is my first year as an official member of the national team. At 17, I am the youngest member, but only by a few months. Stephanie Jallen is two months older than I am.
2. I love to ride horses.
When I am not on the slopes, it is almost certain that you can find me in the saddle. Some of my best friends, two legged and four legged, come from the stable. I ride hunter/jumpers, and my favorite horse in the world is named Dorito. My parents often complain that I picked the two most expensive sports out there. Ooops!
3. I have a dog named Sal Mannella.
If you want to make me smile just mention Sal Mannella. Yes, I named my dog after a nasty disease, but I promise it was in the most endearing way possible. How could I resist? He is kind of adorable I am not going to lie.
4. I am attending Dartmouth College this coming fall.
I guess working hard on not only my racing career, but also academics through high school paid off because I just got into Dartmouth. Dartmouth not only has a great alpine ski team, they also have a varsity equestrian program, and the academics aren't too bad either. This one is still a little surreal for me, but I am so excited to be part of Dartmouth’s class of 2018.
5. I learned to ski when I was 4 years old.
I started skiing at Windham Mountain’s Adaptive Sports Foundation when I was age 4 because my parents wanted to find a fun sport we could do as a family. I think starting so young has given me an advantage because growing up on skis has taught me to be fearless and to be able to test my limits in a race course.
6. I go to a technology school.
When I was in eighth grade I knew that I wanted to be a veterinarian so I decided to go to Morris County School of Technology. My school is really awesome because it is divided up into different academies. I am in the Veterinary Science Academy, but others include health care sciences, digital design, networking and culinary arts. I am so glad I chose to attend my school because I would not have had the athletic or academic opportunities without the support from teachers and administration at MCST.
7. I am always up for making new friends.
Though I may not always be able to tell exactly whom I am talking to, I am always up for socializing. Some of my best friends on the team are the other visually impaired girls, Lindsay [Ball] and Danelle [Umstead]. Ski racing is full of ups and downs, but it is comforting to know that no matter what kind of day I have, I know there is a team behind me. When it isn't me on the top of the podium at the end of the day, I am always proud to know that it is one of these girls. Overall, I am really out going so come up and introduce yourself at some point.
8. I am actually a pretty good guide… usually.
Because I am the most sighted of the visually impaired girls on our team, I often, quite literally, become the blind leading the blind. Surprisingly, I am actually not as bad of a guide as you might think. I only occasionally run them into things, and only once walked Lindsay into the men’s bathroom. That’s okay though. It builds character.
9. My guide is 40 years older than I am.
My guide, Kim, and I have a unique partnership because she is 56 and I am 17. I started skiing with her when I was 11, and for a while I think Sochi was more her dream than mine. Fast forward five years and we have had quite the experiences together. Yes, she has made me the racer I have become, but hey, I taught her the importance of social media and all the latest fads so we are even right?
10. Two of the only Bs I got in high school were in driver’s ed and gym.
First of all, I am never going to drive so the fact that I had to take drivers ed is a mystery in itself. And as far as gym, I guess being a member of the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team does not deem me athletically fit enough to get an A. Irony at its finest.
11. I am really close with my family.
Considering I am 17, I have a really good relationship with my whole family. My parents have given me the opportunity and drive to work hard and reach my potential. I am really close to both my brother and sister, and even though they both are in college now we still manage to stay in touch. I am also really close with my aunt and uncle Liz and Danny.
12. I won a gold medal in my first ever world cup race.
This past summer I went to New Zealand and Australia for my first ever World Cup races. I was really nervous starting the first day, but it was a slalom race, which is my best event. I somehow managed to put together two solid runs and at the end of day finished on top of the podium. The most memorable part of the day was the award ceremony and hearing the Star-Spangled Banner play for us. It was easily the highlight of my career to this point, and I hope to have many more wins in the future.
13. I am slightly disorganized.
Ask any of my teammates who have roomed with me, and they will all tell you that I am not exactly a neat freak. But when you travel as much as I do, you soon discover that it is way easier to live out of a pile on your suitcase than have to unpack all the time.
14. I can't dance.
I am completely uncoordinated and not at all graceful so I guess it is no surprise that I really can’t dance very well. I love music, and will gladly sing anything, but when asked to dance, the answer will always be "no thanks". I will save the embarrassment.