Countdown to Sochi: Fourteen days
Led by eight gold medalists from the 2010 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, the United States will be represented March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia, by 14 athletes who medaled at the previous Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada. Five medalists, including golden girls Alana Nichols and Stephani Victor, return to the slopes in alpine skiing while U.S. Army veteran Andy Soule will make another appearance in biathlon.
With 14 days until the start of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, meet the 14 Vancouver medalists who will represent Team USA in Sochi.
Mark Bathum, alpine skiing
At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Mark Bathum won the silver medal in men’s visually impaired downhill, making him the only U.S. man to medal in alpine skiing at the 2010 Games, and took fourth in the men's super-G. After off-the-podium performances at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships, he returned to the top of the podium during the 2013-14 world cup circuit. Bathum won the super-G in Panorama, Canada, on Jan. 14, the same day that his father passed away. “My dad was my biggest supporter, and when I got my silver medal in downhill in Vancouver, I dedicated that performance to him,” Bathum said. “He loved to ski, and he was my motivation in the sport.” Bathum began skiing at the age of 9 and just three years later discovered his passion for ski racing.
Steve Cash, sled hockey
Steve Cash, who is heading into his third Paralympic Winter Games, is one of the most respected goaltenders in the world. He helped Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2006 Games. In 2009, he helped the United States to its first-ever International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships title, starting each game. The United States Olympic Committee recognized him as the 2009 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. At the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, the second Games of his career, he did not allow a goal in five contests, stopping all 33 shots including a penalty shot attempt in the gold medal game. He received the “Best Male Athlete with a Disability” ESPY Award following the Games. Cash had a .923 save percentage at 2012 worlds. Cash was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) of the right knee in October 1992. At 3 years old, his leg was amputated.
Taylor Chace, sled hockey
In October 2002, Taylor Chace suffered a broken back and an incomplete spinal cord injury when he was hit during a hockey game as a member of the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s New Hampshire Monarchs at the age of 16. While studying at the University of New Hampshire less than two years later, Chace was introduced to sled hockey through the school's Northeast Passage program. He competed for the United States at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA won the bronze medal, and the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA won the gold medal. He was named the tournament’s top defenseman. Following the Games, the United States Olympic Committee recognized him as the 2010 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. His career has continued to flourish since. He even earned the IPC Athlete of the Month honor in December 2012 after he recorded the lone goal in Team USA’s 1-0 victory over Canada at the World Sledge Challenge. He was named best defenseman of 2013 worlds.
Nikko Landeros, sled hockey
While changing a tire on the side of a Colorado road in 2007, Nikko Landeros and friend Taylor Carron were struck by another vehicle, an accident that resulted in both men having their legs amputated. Both are now members of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team headed for Sochi, Russia. Landeros helped the U.S. to the gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, ranking second among Team USA defensemen with three points (1-2) in five games. He helped Team USA to a world title in 2012, tallying two goals, including one game winner. He appeared in all five games of the tournament. In the 2012-13 season, he led all defensemen with five assists. Landeros was a member of team that won silver at the 2013 worlds.
Taylor Lipsett, sled hockey
Former team captain Taylor Lipsett, a forward, found sled hockey at the grocery store. In 2002, while shopping with his mom, the Texas native met a woman whose son-in-law (Lonnie Hannah) had just won the gold medal in sled hockey at the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Games. The next weekend, Lipsett was on the ice trying sled hockey for the first time. Now, 11 years later, he is one of the top athletes on the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team with two Paralympic Winter Games medals, the gold medal in 2010 and the bronze medal in 2006. At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, he led the U.S. with five goals in five games. He helped Team USA to gold medals at the 2009 and 2012 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships (A). In 2012, he led the tournament in points (8), goals (6) and game-winning goals (3). He notched a hat trick and added an assist in the gold-medal game. He later helped Team USA to a silver medal at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge World Championship in Goyang City, South Korea. Lipsett, who has a finance degree from Southern Methodist University, was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder sometimes known as “brittle bone disease”.
Alana Nichols, alpine skiing
A native of Farmington, N.M., Alana Nichols is back in contention for a medal at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games after a shoulder injury knocked her out of competition for several months. Following a crash at Mount Hood, Ore., in June 2013, Nichols made a return to competition in January, winning multiple medals in international competition, including on the world cup circuit. In Vancouver, she won four medals – including two gold medals – in women’s sit skiing events, making her the most decorated American at the Games. She also has a gold medal from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games (wheelchair basketball). Nichols is the first American woman to win gold at the summer and winter Games. In 2000, while snowboarding in Colorado, she attempted a back flip but over-rotated and landed with her back on a rock. She was instantly paralyzed from the waist down.
Adam Page, sled hockey
After playing with the 2006-07 U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team, Adam Page made his debut on the national team the following year. Only 15 years old at the time, he was the youngest player on the 2007-08 roster. He has since played for Team USA in 93 games with 21 goals and 18 assists to his credit. Page, one of the most decorated athletes on the current roster, is a 2010 Paralympic gold medalist and a two-time world champion. He also has a world silver medal (2013) and world bronze medal (2008). Born with spina bifida, a birth defect caused by the incomplete formation of the vertebrae, Page is currently a student at Medaille College, which is in Buffalo, N.Y., only about 20 minutes from his home. “I am pursing a degree in sports management,” said student-athlete Page, who also travels the country for speaking engagements. “In the future, I would like to coach hockey and continue speaking.”
Josh Pauls, sled hockey
Called “Spuds” by teammates, Josh Pauls has an unusual habit. Before each game he plays with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, he faces a Mr. Potatohead figure towards the opponent’s locker room. A serious or silly superstition, Pauls has had no shortage of success with Team USA. At 17, he was the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team that won the gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. He also helped the U.S. to gold at the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships (A), recording one goal and one assist while playing in all five games. He has now emerged as Team USA’s leading scorer in 2012-13 with 12 points on five goals and seven assists. Heading into the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, he led Team USA with eight points and is tied for team lead in goals and assists with four each. Pauls was born without tibia bones in both legs. At 10 months old, both legs were amputated.
Greg Shaw, sled hockey
Greg Shaw made his debut with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team in the 2006-07 season, around the time that he made the switch from competitive ski racing to competitive sled hockey. Shaw is a 2010 Paralympic gold medalists and a four-time world championship competitor, helping Team USA to two gold medals (2009, 2012), one silver medal (2013) and one bronze medal (2008). Heading into his second Games in Sochi, Russia, he has seen action in eight games this season, scoring one goal. Shaw was born with sacral agenesis, an infrequent congenital condition of spinal deformity.
Andy Soule, Nordic skiing
Andy Soule was attending Texas A&M University as a member of the Corps of Cadets when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. Following 9/11, Soule left school to enlist in the U.S. Army. Soon after basic training, he was deployed to Afghanistan where an improvised explosive device detonated next to Soule's Humvee, resulting in double leg amputation. Looking for a way to stay active, Soule attended a cross-country skiing recruitment camp in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2005. He was instantly hooked on Nordic skiing. On the opening day of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games competition, Soule won the bronze medal in the men’s sitting 2.4-kilometer individual pursuit, becoming the first U.S. athlete to medal in biathlon at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games. Soule took two years off to study ballistics. Now he is back, eyeing Team USA’s first-ever gold medal in biathlon.
Laurie Stephens, alpine skiing
At the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Laurie Stephens will compete as the United States’ only reigning world champion in alpine skiing. She won the women’s sitting downhill competition at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain, and later added a bronze medal in super G. Stephens is no stranger to success in Paralympic competition. She won two gold medals at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, in downhill and super G, and the silver in downhill at the Vancouver Games. Stephens, born with spina bifida, started skiing at age 12 when she went on a group trip to Loon Mountain in New Hampshire. She turned to racing at about 15, joining the New England Disabled Ski Team.
Danelle Umstead, alpine skiing
Danelle Umstead, who is a visually impaired alpine skier, competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games with her husband Rob Umstead, who serves as her guide. In Vancouver, the husband and wife duo won bronze medals in the downhill and combined. At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes blindness. Currently, her spotted vision limits her sight to less than five feet, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. There is no chance of return vision, nor is there a cure. She was also recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and central nervous system. A native of Plano, Texas, she once lived in Taos, N.M., and now resides in Park City, Utah, and Winter Park, Colo., with her husband Rob and their son Brocton. Danelle's guide dog, Bettylynn, who was matched with her in September 2008, retired in 2013 due to blindness. Aziza will accompany the Umsteads to Sochi, Russia.
Stephani Victor, alpine skiing
Three-time U.S. Paralympian Stephani Victor’s Road to Sochi is paved in gold. In August 2013, she opened up the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup season with four consecutive victories. In the first world cup in Coronet Peak, New Zealand, Victor beat out teammate Laurie Stephens in the women’s slalom sitting race by more than seven seconds on Aug. 22. On Aug. 23, she won another slalom title by more than 24 seconds. In Mt. Hutt, New Zealand, she claimed the women’s super-G title by more than eight seconds over Victoria Pendergast of Australia. She won seven total gold medals in the first two world cup events. With the momentum of her performance Down Under and a strong start to 2014, Victor looks to build on the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where she won the gold medal in super combined and silver medals in slalom and giant slalom.
Andy Yohe, sled hockey
Following a bronze medal at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games and a gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in sled hockey, Andy Yohe left the sport. But Yohe, now a father of two, could not stay away for long. He returned to the ice this season, securing a spot on the 2013-14 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. Yohe was later voted team captain, a position that he also held for the 2009-10 season. With an impressive resume that includes two Paralympic medals (2010 gold, 2006 bronze) and a world title, what led to Andy’s comeback? He missed the sport. He missed his teammates. He wants another Paralympic title.