Heidi Jo Duce practices in January 2014 at Winter Park, Colo., in preparation for her first world cup of the season.
Sidelined for the fall after separating her shoulder at a team training camp in Austria, national champion Heidi Jo Duce begins her Road to Sochi on Saturday. She is set to compete Jan. 18-19 at the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup at Copper Mountain, Colo.
“I am going there to win,” said Duce, who placed third at both of her world cup races last season. “I don’t mean to sound pompous but that’s my mindset when I go into every race. I’m competing to win. I go in there and give it my all. I go in and prove to myself that I deserve to be a part of Team USA. It doesn’t matter if it’s a NorAm, world cup or hopefully the Paralympics, I want to compete at the top level.”
Duce missed three weeks of training following the injury – sustained after she mistimed a section of the course and went “cartwheeling”.
“The hardest part of the injury was dealing with the mental stuff,” she said. “It is my first injury ever so it’s a big head game. I’ve been working to overcome those mental factors and get back to where I was. Mike [Shea] has been crucial getting me back in the air, back where I was before this happened.”
She returned to snow on Dec. 1, after her teammate Amy Purdy already won a silver medal at the season opening world cup in Landgraaf, Netherlands. Americans Shea and Gabel went 1-2 in the men’s race.
“I don’t view missing the Netherlands race as a problem,” Duce said. “I don’t think missing it is going to affect me because of the large gap between that race and the races in Copper and in Canada. I prefer having race after race after race rather than a race then a break then a race. It helps me get into that mindset of competing and stay there.”
After placing behind Purdy at each of their international meetings in the 2012-13 season, Duce won the inaugural national championship, competing at Copper Mountain, Purdy’s home base. It was close, 1:50.32 to 1:50.35.
“The national championship gave me a lot of confidence,” said Duce of Ouray, Colo.
While others have competed for years, Duce started competing in snowboard cross in January 2013, just 14 months before the start of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games (March 7-16).
If she medals at the Copper Mountain world cup, or Jan. 25-26 in Big White, B.C., she will likely be named in early February to the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Snowboarding Team, the first-ever team for the sport. Snowboard cross makes its debut in Sochi.
But making the team is not her only goal for the season.
“I want to be as comfortable as possible if I get to Russia,” she said. “I want to go in racing as smooth as possible. Last year, I was an erratic racer. I go, I go, I go and then I fall or I pull one amazing race out of nowhere. I want to be consistent this season. I want to be fast and smooth in every race. I want to look like a boardercross racer.”