Every quadrennial it seems that the Paralympic Winter Games get bigger and better. That means even more athletes to get to know.
At the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, there will be as many as 748 of them from around the world. While many of those will have been to the Games before, a good number will be making their debut. Just making it to the biggest stage in sports is hard enough. Doing it in the middle of a pandemic, with a greatly disrupted competition schedule, is even harder.
The sports of the five athletes listed below will have the added challenge of staging their world championships in February, leaving athletes a quick turnaround to compete at the Paralympic Games. Those Games are now just over a year away. No time like the present to learn about a few of the names who may make a big splash in Beijing.
Dani Aravich, Nordic skiing
Dani Aravich’s original plan was to make the Paralympic Games as a sprinter. But it was while training for Tokyo she was spotted by a Nordic ski coach who encouraged her to give that sport a try. Aravich had been on skis before, but only of the downhill variety. It turned out she was a natural. She won both her races at the national championships last January.
Lera Doederlein, Nordic skiing
Teenager Lera Doederlein also is a multi-sport athlete to watch Doederlein first discovered sled hockey at the age of 14. She was recovering from the amputation of her legs, a result of arthrogryposis multiplex, which affected her leg joints. A chance meeting with a sled hockey player led her to try the sport, despite not being a hockey fan and never even considering the sport.
Just a few years later, Doederlein is a member of the U.S. women’s sled development team. There is not yet women’s sled hockey at the Games. But rosters are officially co-ed, even though no woman has yet played with Team USA at the Games. Most recently, Doederlein has added Nordic skiing to her repertoire. After meeting Paralympic gold medalist Oksana Masters, Doederlein was inspired to take up the sport. She has made good progress and hopes to make the Games in both sports one day.
Zach Miller, Snowboarding
Zach Miller had tried basketball as a kid. He’d tried skiing. But when he was 8 and saw snowboarders flying through a terrain park he instantly thought, “I wanna do that.” Miller later found his snowboarding niche in snowboardcross, falling in love with the speed and negotiating tight turns.
At age 11, he won his first race. Now 21, Miller owns medals from the world cup circuit and scored a bronze medal at the 2019 world championships. He then made the national team for the first time. Now in his second season as a national teamer, the Paralympic Games are next on the list.
Joe Pleban, Snowboarding
Snowboarding was in Joe Pleban’s blood from a young age. It remained that way even as it began to vanish for him. Pleban was diagnosed with pigmented villondular synovitis at the age of 18. The disease caused benign tumors in his ankle that gradually eroded the cartilage in the joint. One by one, Pleban had to give up playing the sports he loved until snowboarding was the only one left. Rather than lose that, Pleban opted to have his left foot amputated.
Pleban kept his sense of humor, embarking on a “Left Foot Bucket List” of activities Pleban wanted to do before losing his foot. He never had to leave snowboarding behind after all, and now is in his first year on the national team hoping to make his first Paralympic Games.
David Williams, Alpine skiing
Skiing surprisingly became the sport for David Williams, despite the fact he lived in Florida at the time. Williams had received a spinal cord injury on active duty with the military, and heard about other veterans who had taken up skiing. He attended a disabled veteran winter sports clinic in 2014 showed a lot of potential and determination.
He was so determined, he picked up and moved to Aspen, Colorado, to train. Williams recently was one of four U.S. skiers to take part in the only world cup of the season in Austria. His ultimate goal remains the Paralympic Games.