Countdown to Sochi: Six days

By Caryn Maconi | March 01, 2014, 8 a.m. (ET)

When the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team was named by the United States Olympic Committee on Feb. 21, six able-bodied people were among the 80-member roster. How can able-bodied people compete at the Paralympic Winter Games? Sighted guides, often completely able-bodied, enable visually impaired athletes to compete alpine skiing, biathlon and cross-country. Guides are so crucial to the success of a visually impaired athlete, some who ski downhill with total blindness, that when an athlete medals at the Games, the guide receives a medal too. With six days until the Games, March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia, learn more about six guides on Team USA.

Staci Mannella with guide Kim Seevers
Kim Seevers with Staci Manella

Rob Umstead with Danelle Umstead

Mark Bathum with guide Cade Yamamoto
Cade Yamamoto (front) with Mark Bathum

Diane Barras, Guide for alpine skier Lindsay Ball

Diane Barras was working at Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation as the head race coach when she first met Lindsay Ball, who was in high school at the time. After coaching Ball and her volunteer guides for a few seasons, Ball needed a guide to go to a camp with her, so Barras volunteered and the pair clicked on the hill and pushed each other to be better. Barras spoke of their relationship by saying, “I think some of her earlier guides were so worried about keeping her safe, that they couldn’t really push her to ski better and faster.” Barras left her job with the in fall 2013 in order to train full-time with Ball.

David Chamberlain, Guide for Nordic skier Kevin Burton

David Chamberlain, who will guide Kevin Burton in the men’s visually-impaired cross-country and biathlon events in Sochi, is an experienced Nordic racer on both the adaptive and able-bodied circuits. Chamberlain started cross-country skiing in high school and went on to have an impressive career on the snow. He was an All-American skier at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, before turning professional. He represented Team USA at three able-bodied world championships. Chamberlain currently lives and trains out of Boulder, Colo., though he also races with the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou, Maine. He is married to BethAnn Chamberlain, who also races biathlon for the MWSC. When he is not racing, Chamberlain works as a manager and race service director at Boulder Nordic Sport.

Reid Pletcher, Guide for Nordic skier Jake Adicoff

Before becoming a guide, Reid Pletcher was a four-year member of the Nordic skiing team at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he became just the third American-born racer to win an NCAA individual classical national title in March 2011. He raced his first world cup season in sprint events at just 18 years old, one of the youngest American males to qualify and race at that level. In May 2011, however, Pletcher was involved in a rock climbing accident that resulted in a severe traumatic brain injury. He was out of competition for seven months, but recovered in time to compete in his senior collegiate season and return to the world cup circuit. Pletcher has represented Team USA at two junior world championships, and was ranked top five in the country last season. He was shooting for his own berth at the Olympic Winter Games, but just four days before the U.S. national championships, he stopped racing completely due to a chemical imbalance of the brain that was negatively affecting his results. Pletcher returned to competition to guide Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation teammate Jake Adicoff. Pletcher also works as a coach at SVSEF.

Kim Seevers, Guide for alpine skier Staci Manella

Alpine skiing guide Kim Seevers has been involved in the ski industry for more than 30 years, holding every role from coach to director for the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). A former boarding school teacher, Seevers currently works full-time as a grant writer for the Adaptive Sports Foundation in Windham, N.Y., while training with 17-year-old Staci Mannella. While coaching at the Adaptive Sports Foundation, Seevers met Mannella when she was just 4. The two began training and racing together in 2009 when Mannella was just 11. They have been a dynamic duo ever since. Prior to partnering with Mannella, Seevers also worked with Caitlin Sarubbi, a visually-impaired alpine skier who competed for Team USA at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. Seevers also played three years of softball at Slippery Rock University.

Rob Umstead, Guide for alpine skier Danelle Umstead

Rob Umstead, husband to Danelle Umstead, became Danelle’s full-time guide in 2008 when she was having difficulties locating a new guide following the couple’s move from New Mexico to Utah. Rob guided Danelle to two bronze medals at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, the first Games for both. The team made the podium in the downhill and super-combined events. Rob has a noteworthy career in ski racing and has been involved in racing for 23 years. He first started out as a young athlete in Vermont and then moved on to racing for the University of Massachusetts. After college he was a race coach in New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon. The Umsteads have a young son, Brocton. 

Cade Yamamoto, Guide for alpine skier Mark Bathum

Cade Yamamoto is the newest guide on Team USA. In January 2014, he started guiding for Mark Bathum, who won silver with his previous guide at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. Bathum and Yamamoto found success right away, winning two of four events in their first world cup. Ski racing runs in the Yamamoto family. Cade’s mom Claudia raced at an elite level including competing in U.S. nationals and CanAms. Claudia currently coaches with the Mission Ridge Ski Team in Wenatchee, Wash.