Stephanie Jallen won two bronze medals in alpine skiing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Life could have hardly moved faster for Stephanie Jallen this past year.
Upon winning two bronze medals in alpine skiing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in March, Jallen earned two of the biggest honors at the inaugural Best of U.S. awards, went to the White House to meet the president and, ultimately, graduated from high school and started classes at King’s College in Pennsylvania this past fall.
Yet when the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing NorAm Cup takes place Tuesday and Wednesday in Aspen, Colorado, the 18-year-old Jallen is one of roughly 50 skiers lining up to race.
Jallen, a native of Harding, Pennsylvania, said she grappled with the decision of whether or not to stay competitive this season. She ultimately decided to come back, at least in part, because of her teammates.
“I needed a boost,” she said. “My teammates encouraged me to keep skiing. I didn’t want to give it up. My teammates and I are like a big family. We all care deeply about each other.”
Even still, balancing her busy schedule remains as much on her mind as gold medals.
“I am still in a haze at the moment as I am missing finals this week at school,” she said. “My goal this season is to do well in the world championships while working towards competing in the Paralympics in Korea in 2018.”
Although Jallen’s best event has traditionally been slalom — at No. 3, she was the United States’ top-ranked standing slalom skier in 2013-14 — the 118-pound Jallen said that her speed increased considerably at the Sochi Games and continues to do so. She now considers the super-G to be her best event.
“I am getting more comfortable, more confident,” said Jallen, who won bronze medals in the super-G and super combined in Sochi. “It is always intimidating to compete, but I think it is the adrenaline that gets me going. I don’t let it get into my head. A lot of racers let the run invade their minds. To tell you the truth, a race is a race. Whatever the conditions of the course are, I feel comfortable with the day I have been given and do my best.”
Not only is her speed increasing but also Jallen was surprised and pleased that in training she finished ahead of her long time mentor and friend Allison Jones, another member of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team.
“She has always been my mentor, but this training season has been the first time I have ever beaten her in a run and I ended up beating her overall,” Jallen said.
Jallen is also still very much buoyed by her experience in Sochi last winter. Winning two bronze medals “still gives me a thrill when I think about it. It still makes me cry when I watch it on film,” Jallen said. “Every time I see it, I also feel it, smell it and remember it. I don’t think I will ever lose the feeling of it.”
After the Games, she was named Best Female Paralympian and her super-G performance earned her the Best Moment of the Paralympic Games at the Best of U.S. awards.
Jallen has been skiing for 10 years. She was born with CHILD — Congenital Hemidysplasia with Ichthyosiform Erythroderma and Limb Defects — Syndrome, a rare birth defect that means her left arm was undeveloped and her left leg amputated in infancy. At 9 years old, she was encouraged to attend an adaptive ski camp near her home state of Pennsylvania.
She credits the ski camps she attended with giving her the opportunity to make the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team.
“I learned and grew a lot in the adaptive ski camps and learned how to race there,” she said. “However, there are very, very few female Paralympic athletes, and we need more of these camps for the future of the Paralympic team. They are expensive and I was able to attend them through a grant. But we are always fundraising and they really are important. Everyone should have the opportunity that I had."
Although Jallen has reached great heights at a young age in her skiing career, she enters the next quadrennium with modest goals.
“Personally, as I enter into competition this season I am trying to stay healthy, and confident,” she said. “It is important to stay happy as sometimes it can feel like a job and a lot of work. Life throws you curve balls.
“It is a goal of mine to stay positive. I try and take things one day at a time. I realize I am very blessed. I try to realize it every day.”
Laurie Fullerton writes about sports and outdoors — particularly sailing — for a number of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.