Top 14 of 2014: Paralympic women
Stephanie Jallen, then an 18-year-old high school senior, won two bronze medals at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in alpine skiing. She was named the Best Female Paralympian at the Best of U.S.
From the slopes of Sochi, Russia, to the dance floor of Los Angeles, to the pavement of New York, 2014 was a thrilling year for the Paralympic Movement as Team USA athletes set the standard on and off the field of play. Records were broken. Legacies were made. And 2014 became the year to remember in the Paralympic Movement. Here are 14 female athletes who made an impact in 2014:
En route to helping the United States win the inaugural International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey Women’s International Cup in Canada in November, Kelsey DiClaudio scored a team-leading 16 goals and 23 points. In the championship game against Canada, she scored four goals and had an assist in the 5-1 victory. She was later named the Athlete of the Month by the International Paralympic Committee. A current member of the U.S. Developmental Sled Hockey Team, DiClaudio hopes to become the first woman to compete in the sport at the Paralympic Winter Games. (The sport is a mixed-gender competition but a woman has never competed at the Games.)
Sitting volleyball player Heather Erickson was named the “Best Spiker” of the 2014 world championship, where Team USA finished second to China. In the gold-medal match against China on June 21, Erickson tallied 14 points on 12 kills and two blocks. She also had a 69-positive reception percent in 26 receptions during the match. In the semifinals against Netherlands, Erickson tallied 14 points with 11 kills on 20 attacks, two aces and one block. She finished the tournament with 61 kills.
Kendall Gretsch competed in just two para-triathlon races ahead of the world championships in Edmonton, Alberta. But instead of backing down from the strong competition, Gretsch won the women’s PT1 world title by more than five minutes. She also won the national title.
Then a high school senior, Stephanie Jallen made her Paralympic Winter Games debut in Sochi, Russia, winning two bronze medals in alpine skiing. First, she took bronze in the women’s standing super-G then finished with a bronze in the super combined. Following the Games, Jallen was named the Best Female Paralympian at the Best of U.S. awards, and then returned to her hometown of Harding, Pennsylvania, to graduate from school. She opened up the season in December in Colorado by winning gold medals in the NorAm slalom and International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing giant slalom women’s standing races.
Allison Jones had an incredible year in both alpine skiing and cycling. At the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, which marked her seventh Games appearance, she won Team USA’s first medal, a bronze in the women’s standing downhill. She retired from the sport shortly after the Games to focus on road and track cycling. Fresh off the snow, she went to the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Mexico and won a silver medal in the 500-meter time trial and a bronze medal in pursuit. Jones also competed at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Greenville, South Carolina, in the fall, winning the world titles in the time trial and the road race.
The name “Jessica Long” has long been synonymous with success in the Paralympic Movement as she made her Paralympic Games debut in 2004, winning three gold medals at age 12. In 2014, there was no shortage of success for Long, who swam a world record 2:36.50 in the women’s 200-meters S8 at the Jimi Flowers meet in Colorado Springs, Colorado, besting the mark she set earlier in the year in Berlin. Long started her year as the on-air talent for NBC Olympics’ coverage of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. “Sochi was such a great opportunity and I’m so thankful that NBC asked me to do that,” Long said. “To be at the Paralympics as a reporter instead of an athlete, it was a different experience. I think I might have been more nervous to be the one asking the questions than being the one answering questions. It was such a relief to get in the pool after that because the water is my place. I loved that atmosphere but this is where I’m comfortable.”
Oksana Masters competes in cross-country skiing at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. She won two medals, a silver and a bronze, becoming the first U.S. woman to medal in the sport since 1994.
Rower-turned-skier Oksana Masters garnered the first U.S. women’s Paralympic cross-country medal in 20 years when she won a silver medal in the 12-kilometer sitting event at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. She followed up that stellar performance with a second medal on the last day of competition, winning bronze in the women’s 5km cross-country sitting event. To open up the 2014-15 season, Masters won her first international race Dec. 14, taking gold in the women’s 1-kilometer cross-country sprint at the International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Vuokatti, Finland. It was the first-ever victory for an American woman on the circuit. She added a silver in women’s 5-kilometer cross-country race, which was the highlight of her World Cup career until her historic win.
In a dramatic fight to the finish, Tatyana McFadden won a silver medal in the women’s 1-kilometer cross-country sprint event at the Paralympic Winter Games, narrowly missing the gold. The win marked the first Paralympic Winter Games medal of McFadden’s career, which is decorated with successes in track, including three-Paralympic titles. Following her performance in Sochi, McFadden returned to track, winning the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathons. It was the second-consecutive year that McFadden picked-up a marathon grand slam for wheelchair racing.
Swimmer Rebecca Meyers currently holds five world records in the S13 classification, four of them set in 2014 at the spring nationals in Miami or Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships in Pasadena, California. On the second day of the competition (Aug. 7) in Pasadena, Meyers bested a 5-year-old world record (4:28.64) in the women's 400-meter freestyle S13 race, swimming 4:25.31 in the morning preliminary race. Two days later on Aug. 9, the 2012 U.S. Paralympian swam a world record 2:26.86 in the women's 200-meter individual medley SM13. “I had a feeling that I was going to set the world record but when I touched the wall, I was very, very shocked,” Meyers said after her second world record swim. In total, Meyers won four gold medals and two silver medals at the 2014 Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships.
Asya Miller was named Most Valuable Player for the women’s competition at the 2014 International Blind Sports Federation Goalball World Championships in July. Her performance at the competition included blanking competitors in her team’s final two games on the way to a gold-medal finish. Along the way, she scored 12 total goals, ranking her as eighth overall for goals scored at the event. Two of those goals came in the semifinal against Japan and another goal was the first goal scored in the gold-medal match against Russia. Her performance in defense in the last part of the competition enabled her team to win it all, despite having been the last team to qualify during pool play, with two wins and three losses. The U.S. women’s goalball team was the United States Olympic Committee’s Team of the Month for July 2014.
Rachel Morrison made her first season in Paralympic track and field a memorable one. After only discovering the sport less than a month before June’s national championships, Morrison sent the club flying 18.82m/61-09.25 on Day 1 of the nationals, smashing the previous record by nearly three meters. The previous record of 15.83m set by Catherine O’Neill of Ireland sat on the books for more than 13 years. Morrison went on to compete for Team USA in July. In her international debut at the Czech Open, she set world records in the women’s 51 club and discus.
Amy Purdy rose to stardom when, as the first Paralympian ever to compete, she finished second on the reality television show competition Dancing with the Stars. The victory came shortly after she won a bronze medal in the debut of snowboard cross at the Paralympic Winter Games. With the success of the Games and Dancing with the Stars behind her, Purdy embarked on a nationwide speaking tour with Oprah. The double-amputee finished her year by releasing her memoir On My Own Two Feet on Dec. 30. "I thought I was going to die," Purdy said, recalling the time when doctors told her two-percent chance to live. "It's amazing how I've been able to live."
Alpine skiing veteran Laurie Stephens won two bronze medals at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. She racked up bronze in the downhill event and then added a second in the super-G. Stephens also posted a fourth place finish in the giant slalom and super combined events in the women’s sitting class. At the 2014 U.S. Paralympics National Championships, Stephens took first in the slalom and giant slalom. She is the only U.S. female sit skier from the 2014 roster who has returned to competition for the 2014-15 season.
Following a stellar debut in 2013, cyclist Jamie Whitmore continued her dominance of the C3 class on both the track and the roads. At the 2014 International Cycling Union Para-cycling Track World Championships, Whitmore took first place in the time trial and pursuit events, setting world records en route to both gold medals. She also swept her events at the 2014 road world championships. With her success around the world, Whitmore was selected as the Best Female Athlete with a Disability at the 2014 ESPYS and was nominated for the Individual SportsWoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.