Every year, thousands of high school seniors across the United States debate whether to attend college close to home or venture across the country.
Such was the case in 2012 for Jamie Stanton, a native of Rochester Hills, Michigan, who is now arguably the top men’s standing skier on the U.S. Paralympics alpine skiing team heading into the main stretch of the 2015-16 season.
He had originally planned to attend Michigan State, but his plans quickly changed when the University of Denver informed him he had won the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship for disabled athletes of outstanding character, academic achievement and athletic performance. The scholarship covers five years of school — just the fall and spring quarters — allowing Stanton to take the winters off to train in Aspen.
Stanton, whose right leg was amputated below the knee when he was six months old due to a growth deficiency of his fibula, had enjoyed a long athletic career.
His parents put him on skis for the first time at age 3. Then, in addition to serving as a captain of his high school’s varsity skiing and golf teams, Stanton, mentored by four-time Paralympic medalist Jim Lagerstrom, won back-to-back skiing titles at the Michigan Adaptive Sports state championships.
But the time and resources provided at DU allowed his skiing to thrive, and Stanton’s career has skyrocketed.
During his second year, he earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympics alpine skiing development squad to start the 2013-14 season, and then exceeded all expectations by claiming two gold medals in his first international competition. The breakout star continued his rapid rise by cracking the national team roster that same season to earn a spot at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
“I had a pretty quick six months on the development team before moving up to the national team,” Stanton said. “Most people spend a year or two on that team. But I was excited to have the opportunity to move up to the national team, and just really thrived off that, pushing myself on and off the hill harder and harder every day until I started seeing gains in my performance.”
In front of his father, grandparents and a global television audience, Stanton competed in the slalom, super combined and super-G standing events at the Sochi 2014 Games. His highest finish was sixth in a power-packed super-G field.
Now in his third season on the national team, the 21-year-old college junior is focusing on bettering his times in the technical events — slalom and giant slalom — starting with the first IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup competition, which takes place on Friday and Saturday in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
He will be with the Team USA contingent in Europe for more than a month, also competing in world cup events in Italy, Switzerland and France before returning stateside for the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Final in Aspen at the end of February.
Stanton, a finance major who could see himself as a stockbroker on Wall Street one day, sets a specific range of where he wants to finish in each of his races.
“I try to go into the season with minimal expectations and then see how I’m skiing and go from there,” Stanton said. “For the world cups coming up this year, my goal is to be top-five in the tech events, and then I’d like to be top-10 in the speed events.
“My No. 1 long-term goal is to podium in PyeongChang (at the Paralympic Winter Games) in 2018. This season, my goal would be to get at least one world cup podium.”
One of Stanton’s main rivals on the slopes is also his teammate, 20-year-old Thomas Walsh, an up-and-comer who is longtime friends with Olympic champion slalom skier Mikaela Shiffrin.
“His and my skiing capabilities are very similar,” Stanton said. “We’re both very competitive individuals. When we raced in Winter Park (in Colorado) a few weeks ago, I happened to just out-nudge him the first day by a few hundredths of a second to take the win, and then the second day I beat him by less than a second to take the win. We’re very comparable, and we push each other, which I like. It helps us get to the next level to perform on the world cup circuit.”
Stanton and Walsh both hope to keep up with the top crop of standing skiers on the world cup circuit.
Although Stanton doesn’t see his family very often, as they’re all back in Michigan, a large number of his teammates also train in Aspen, making for a home away from home. That training group includes Walsh, along with established sit-skiers and Paralympians Tyler Walker, Chris Devlin-Young, Stephen Lawler and Laurie Stephens.
“We all have the same attitude,” Stanton said. “We joke around at the hotels or wherever we are, but then when it comes to the races, it’s time to get serious and we’re able to perform.
“I think I’m a pretty easygoing guy. Obviously, when I’m skiing, it’s my job to get better. I tend to be kind of intense when I train, just because races are intense and you train like you race, so that’s the mindset I have.”
And by the look of things, that intensity has paid off so far.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.