From the outside, it would seem that Allison Jones lives a quiet life in Portland, Oregon, with her two dogs and one cat. She works as a mechanical engineer and spends her free time doing CrossFit and mountain biking.
Look behind the books in her living room, though, and you’ll find eight Paralympic medals — two golds, three silvers and three bronzes, to be exact. Check the laundry room, and you’ll see plaques honoring her many achievements — eight-time Paralympian across two sports and 22-time world championship medalist among them.
“I just did it,” Jones, now 35, said matter-of-factly.
If she’s considered a legend in Para alpine skiing and Para-cycling, she doesn’t seem to know it. Most would look at her long and storied career with amazement. But for Jones, it’s quite simple: She wanted something, and so she went out and made it happen.
That might be because for Jones, sports were practically a birthright. Despite being born without her right femur and being fitted with her first prosthetic at 11 months, sports were a no-brainer. She came from a sports-loving family, and what’s more, the landscape was just right.
“Growing up in Colorado Springs, outdoor sports were my backyard,” Jones said. “Pikes Peak was the silhouette that I woke up to every morning.”
While Jones “did every sport under the moon” from an early age, she fell in love with skiing at just 5 — and found she had a natural talent for it. Around that time, she learned something else about herself, too: She was innately competitive.
“We had a neighborhood full of boys,” she said. “I was too stubborn and too competitive to walk away.”
By 8, she was racing.
Jones’ career as a skier accelerated as she approached her teenage years. She switched high schools to focus on skiing with the high school team, before making the national team. She was well on track to racing at the Paralympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002.
But even if she didn’t know it at the time, there was something missing from Jones’ regimen. In 1998, 14-year-old Jones attended the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in her hometown, something she described as a “fun thing to do on a hot summer day.” Then, she saw something that changed her life: “First thing I saw was a dude with no hands and no feet” cycling, she said. “I literally just looked at my mom, ‘Yes, that’s what I want to do.’”
They spoke to a coach at the competition, and by the next spring, Jones was riding a track bike every day she could.
By adding cycling to her regimen, Jones became a two-season athlete, setting the stage for an incredible eight consecutive Paralympic Games. For her first, in 2002, Jones was still in high school. The 17-year-old was “mesmerized,” “starstruck,” and filled with “awe and amazement.”
If she felt pressure, she didn’t show it, taking home two silver medals. Later that year, she started at the University of Denver to work toward a degree in mechanical engineering, and in 2004, she competed at her first summer Games, finishing just off the podium in fourth. From there, she began racking up medals, earning her first gold in Torino in 2006 in alpine skiing, a cycling silver in Beijing in 2008, a gold and two bronze medals on the bike in London in 2012 — making her the second American woman to win gold medals in both the summer and winter Games — and a bronze in 2014. At her final Games in Rio in 2016, Jones finished off the podium, but she was chosen to carry the flag for the United States delegation in the Opening Ceremony.
She followed up her final Paralympic Games with a gold medal at the 2017 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships — what she called “the showing I was supposed to have in Rio” — and rounded out her 22 world championship medals in cycling.
By that time, “I was no longer a spring chicken,” she joked. As she aged, it became more and more difficult for Jones to compete in both sports. It was also becoming less possible for Jones to sustain herself financially.
“I wanted to be able to pay the bills consistently,” she said. “I was always teetering on the edge.”
Aside from securing her future financially, Jones also wanted the opportunity to use her degree in earnest. She worked as a mechanical engineer for her last two years of competition, but couldn’t do it full-time.
“I was definitely ready for the next step in my career,” Jones said. She made the difficult decision to retire from sports, just off of a gold-medal performance at worlds.
But she speaks about that time without a hint of regret. And today, her goal is just “to have fun.” She is currently riding out the coronavirus pandemic and working from home. She speaks about her dogs, WallE and Mo, and her cat, Davis, with glee. At a more normal time, she would take her dogs with her mountain biking and spend her free time working out at CrossFit — an activity she picked up after taking a year off sports and finding that “my pants stopped fitting” — or working from ski lifts.
For now, though, she’s doing what she can do to meet her goal from home. Turning her shed into an office is one way. Doing CrossFit with online classes is another. Enjoying her favorite beverage — Axe and the Oak Distillery rye — is a third.
But most of her time is spent on the passion she gave up her athletic career for, mechanical engineering. Jones works for a precision automation company south of Portland, helping various industries solve problems of automating production. In layman’s terms, that means going from taking a day to make three of a product versus making one every three seconds.
Her work allows companies to create their products for less cost and with less manpower. And for some products, the savings that are passed on to the consumer can make a huge difference: Jones’ latest project was automating the process for building eye implants.
“To be able to create something that was helping someone,” she said, “is freaking amazing.”
Jones is still involved in Para sports, helping represent the voice of athletes in Para-cycling. And she has warm memories of competing, like earning her first gold in Torino, winning gold in 2012, and winning her very last race.
But talking to Jones now, you would have no idea.
“Everybody thinks I did something crazy,” she said. “But no, I just set my mind to it.”
Jessica Taylor Price is a sportswriter from Somerville, Massachusetts, whose work has appeared in various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.