Alana Nichols: Once An Athlete, Always An Athlete

By Alana Nichols, Three-Sport Paralympian And Two-Time Paralympic Champion | Oct. 06, 2016, 4:09 p.m. (ET)
Alana Nichols celebrates after racing in the debut of paracanoe at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.


Alana Nichols blog from Rio, presented by Samsung

Alana Nichols, 33, is a summer and winter athlete who recently completed her fifth Paralympic Games, this time as a sprint kayaker in Rio de Janeiro. Previously she won a gold medal in wheelchair basketball and two gold medals in alpine skiing. At Rio she reached the finals in a third sport, finishing seventh in the 200-meter sprint kayak. Now back in the United States and in a new home in San Diego, Nichols reflects on those finals and an exciting future. 

One door has closed, but another is opening. Once you’re an athlete, you’re always an athlete. This may have been my last Paralympics, but there’s no way I’m done as an athlete. It’s just going to be in a different realm.

I fell in love with adaptive surfing two years ago in Hawaii after the Sochi Games. I found the sense of freedom in the ocean that I had yet to feel before. Part of what any surfer talks about is the spiritual connection you feel to the ocean and how it gives you a sense of how small you are, sitting out in the big blue sea. There’s also something about saltwater that I think is inherently healing. It makes you feel really good. All of those things came together for me when I first learned how to surf.

I hope to do a lot of things now, including write a book, possibly make a movie and do some broadcasting. But surfing — and working to get adaptive surfing into the 2024 Games — will be an important part of my life.

In Rio, we did an adaptive surfing event, which I coordinated. It’s something I’m very passionate about. I want to be one of the best female adaptive surfers in the world, and I want to get adaptive surfing into the Paralympics. It’s invigorating and empowering. More people with a disability need to experience it.

I’m always going to treasure my Paralympic experiences. In Rio, I had this sense that it was the end of my Paralympic career. I tried to stay in each moment.

One of the coolest moments for me was at about 6:30 in the morning of our sprint kayak final. I was sitting on the dock there at the Lagoa and the sun was rising over a small mountain and Christ the Redeemer was high up on my left. I just took in the scene and gave thanks for my life and the opportunities I’ve been given. I’m not a very emotional person, but it brought tears to my eyes. To think about how incredibly blessed I’ve been to have not only competed in one sport at the Paralympic level, but to be in the finals of a third sport. My heart was so full of gratitude I could not help but cry. I knew everything was going to be fine.

Then I went out and did what I loved to do, compete. My time got better with each race, and when I crossed the finish line in seventh place out of eight in the finals, I didn’t really know where I stood. I didn’t look left or right, I was paddling just as hard as I could.

When I crossed the line I celebrated like I won the gold medal because I was so glad I had followed through with my commitment. I had finished the job I had started.

I was authentically really proud of myself for all the hard work I had put into that sport.

It wasn’t easy. It was one of the hardest things I had embarked upon. But I finished a job I had started.

Now, it’s on to new experiences and adventures.