BY DANELLE UMSTEAD
Since the 2010 Paralympic Games, I have overcome so much. I have learned to live with my disability and learned to accept who I am. I am a wife, mother and a visually impaired Paralympian, who, with her husband as her guide, won two bronze medals at the 2010 Paralympic Games.
After Vancouver, Rob and I already had our goals set on Sochi and to represent Team USA at the 2014 Paralympic Games with a “Vision4Gold,” ready to work hard to make our dreams reality. Back to the gym, back on snow and training hard.
However, nothing ever goes as we plan.
October 27, 2010
Early that morning, I woke up partially paralyzed on my right side. Not able to walk, feeling only tingling in my right side. We knew something was really wrong. I was so scared. Rob took me to the emergency room and they ran many tests. I was rushed to Denver in an ambulance and spent six days in the hospital getting IV steroids. Then, days later, I was in physical therapy to learn how to walk again. In bed one night lying awake and feeling sorry for myself, I came up with this: “Life is a gift… living it is a choice.”
I choose to live my life and decided to work even harder to get back on snow. Back to where I felt whole and free.
At a race in December 2010, my doctor called me between runs and said, “You have multiple sclerosis.” Life as I knew it – the one I fought hard to overcome – a life without sight, could now become without sight and mobility.
It was time to make another choice. I decided I would fight this disease.
I started a treatment program with daily injections. This would be a challenge. I am and always have been petrified of shots. I was up for the challenge. I was ready to beat this. Daily injections, physical therapy and my regular training/racing program was the plan. It seemed to be working for almost a year. I was climbing my way back on the racing circuit. We were not back to the speed and level we were before, but holding our ground at the World Cup level.
I had another relapse and was sent home from Spain unable to finish competing in the World Cup races there.
I went home to Park City, Utah, and had a nurse there to meet me to start an IV treatment program. This is when I first thought I could not beat this and maybe it was time to quit ski racing. Skiing was no longer my outlet; it was too hard, too much disappointment. I just did not want to fight anymore. I finished out the season with a lot of tears and little hope. I finally shut the season down before the U.S. speed nationals (my favorite events) in March. My body and mind could not take it anymore. It was no longer fun. Ski racing was bringing me down, and I felt like I was failing others and myself.
I am not a quitter. Skiing is what I love and ski racing brings me hope and joy. I decided I would spend the summer learning to live with multiple sclerosis and not fighting it. Understanding it, not doubting it.
I met a man named Dr. Zetterberg a couple years back. He moved to Park City and introduced me to chiropractic care. He started using a devise on me called an activator. I thought he was crazy but I was desperate. His endless hours and knowledge/practice helped me in so many ways I cannot explain. He helped change my body and started having my body work for me, not against me. This was the beginning.
May 2012 – October 2012
Rob and I pushed me beyond my physical and mental comfort level. I would change what I put into my body even more than I did before. I decided to take charge of my mind through sports psych books. Then I reached out to an amazing woman who has helped me find my path back and remember why I love skiing/racing. She has helped me realize what I have overcome and kept me in the present. We worked many hours with Allen in the Park City ski studio, learning how to work on my own skiing and visualizing. There, I did not have to worry about my surroundings, just my own skiing. We dialed in my equipment and were ready to take the next step.
We did a national team training camp in Chili in September and a lot started coming together. I now know my body and mind and am ready to enjoy my sport again.
2012 – 2013 season
Our plan going into the season was to focus more on speed events (downhill, super G and super combined). Our goal was to try to get our first world championship podium in La Molina, Spain, then go on to Sochi, Russia, for the World Cup Finals for just recon… no expectations, just learn the hill and prepare us for the 2014 Paralympic Games on the same hill.
As always, “nothing ever goes as we plan.”
Our focus on speed events led to many high-speed crashes. We won five North American super G races and one downhill race. Team Vision4Gold is U.S. super G, slalom, and giant slalom champions. In slalom, we only finished two races this season, but those two races we did very well. There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. At World Championships, we did not podium. Although we felt we skied well, we were just not fast enough. Then our “recon-only” trip to Sochi ended up with us winning the last World Cup downhill of the season. Wow, what a surprise! There is a lot more to what went on leading up to that win, but that’s another story.
Don’t ever give up!
You can also follow our journey on Facebook.