Stephanie Jallen celebrates the first of two bronze medals she won at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Her celebrations earned her the "Best Paralympic Moment of the Games" at the 2014 Best of U.S. Awards Show.
Stephanie Jallen reached Paralympic Winter Games one step at a time
Stephanie Jallen on the podium at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, the first Games of her career.
Stephanie Jallen did not even remember the very first blog post on her website stephaniejallen.org.
Dated Dec. 2, 2007, when Jallen was 11 years old, it read, in part: “I am one step closer to my dream of winning the Paralympics.”
The blog post was written after Jallen had just won a gold medal at the Hartford Ski Spectacular, a Disabled Sports USA event.
“I didn’t really expect to get there,” Jallen said of the Paralympic Winter Games in a phone interview this month. “It was always this idea. It was never really solid for me until very recently.
“I was a little girl and I had a dream, like all little 9-year olds. Some of those dreams are to go to Disney World; some are to rule the world. I guess I always wanted to go to the Paralympics.”
It was as a 9-year-old that Jallen, who also played youth soccer and basketball, was introduced to alpine skiing and the idea of Paralympic competition.
Now, a high school senior, Jallen made it to the Paralympic Winter Games in March. As the second-youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team, she earned bronze in the standing women’s super-G and super combined.
Jallen returned from what she had expected to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience determined to remain competitive into the future.
“I am going to stay involved,” said Jallen, a Harding, Pa. resident who attends Wyoming Area High School and plans to study at King’s College in nearby Wilkes-Barre. “That definitely did change because I was ready to toss in the skis for a while and really just focus on college.
“I kind of have a good thing going, and I’m going to try to keep it going as long as I can. If I make it to Korea [for the 2018 Winter Games], I make it to Korea. I didn’t make any commitments to anything yet. It’s all going to be based off of the next four years.”
Jallen, who was born with a condition known as CHILD Syndrome, had her left leg amputated when she was young. Her left arm and left side are underdeveloped.
While she was competing successfully and thoroughly enjoying the experience of being with her U.S. teammates in Sochi, Jallen did not know how much was still ahead.
“I’m still getting over the aftershock of Sochi,” Jallen said.
Jallen returned to the United States to a White House visit, the surprise of being honored twice at the Best of U.S. Awards in Washington and an arrival home to a parade in which thousands of supporters lined the streets of neighboring communities. She threw out the first pitch at a home game of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the top farm team of the New York Yankees.
“It’s been quite overwhelming,” said Jallen, who won Best Female Paralympian and Best Moment of the Paralympic Games at the Best of U.S.. “I greatly appreciate all the support. Everything I’ve been able to do is because of people around me and all of my supporters and everybody who believed in me.
“There were a lot of people who were like, ‘Oh that’s cute, that’s nice,’ then there were some who were like, ‘Yes, she’s going to do it.’ It was those people who kept me going.
“It’s definitely not something I did only on my own. Without the people around me, I would not have had the opportunity to work out, or to ski or to turn this into any sort of career.”
Two months after her medal-winning efforts, Jallen still has people approaching her to talk about Sochi. She has become comfortable speaking publicly through the years. She continues to get requests, whether for interviews or to make appearances at kids’ birthday parties.
The concentration now is on making up for lost time at school. Taking an “incomplete” or delaying the completion of high school into the summer are not viable options for a determined 18-year-old who has found her place among the world’s elite Paralympic athletes and has college and the pursuit of a business degree waiting.
Cooperative and supportive teachers prepared assignments for Jallen, who did some schoolwork during the travels that kept her away from northeastern Pennsylvania before and after Sochi. While in Russia, it was a different story.
“I was not going to sit in my room while the Games went on around me,” Jallen said. “I did a lot before I left and I’m still making up stuff, but I don’t regret it.”
Jallen enjoyed everything about her first Paralympic Winter Games.
“We were all like one big family,” Jallen said. “We’d hang out in the lounge and watch sled hockey and we’d all eat dinner together and we’d walk around as a group.
“We took advantage of everything. Every single day and every hour of that day, there was something going on and something to go do. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular. I miss it.”
The reaction at home encouraged Jallen about the future of the Games.
“I had no idea it was going to be as big as it was,” she said. “I never expected the parade. The response was way bigger than I thought it would be.”
On the national level, the voting for Best Moment of the Paralympic Games reminded Jallen that others were watching.
“I’m really glad that the Paralympics are finally getting the attention they are,” Jallen said. “This was the first year that it was ever broadcast the way it was.”
NBC Olympics aired more than 52 hours on television while all events were also live online at TeamUSA.org, through the support of sponsors BMW, BP, Citi, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Procter & Gamble and The Hartford.
“Finally, it is getting the attention it deserves. I really hope that people can find a passion for Paralympic sports. It being televised this year, I think, had an immense impact on the world.”
Jallen did her part in providing one of the most special moments.
Tom Robinson is a writer from northeastern Pennsylvania. He is a freelance contributor to USParalympics.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.