Grace Miller during training at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 3, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
For three years, Grace Miller woke up to frigid cold temperatures and brutally dark skies every day at 6 a.m. mid-winter in Alaska and skied the trails wearing headlamps with her collegiate teammates. She’d then attend a full slate of college classes before returning to the trails outside her dorm for another training session in the afternoon.
The support from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ program is what has propelled Miller, who was adopted from a Chinese orphanage as a child, to make her second U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Team for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“Having a consistent training group is so key to being fit,” Miller told TeamUSA.org last year. “When you’re a college athlete, everyone is under the same pressure of trying to perform in both school and our sport, so that’s nice to bond over. The intensity — training twice a day with a team and being able to work out with other elite athletes — makes you work so much harder.”
Competitive collegiate opportunities are an important pipeline for Paralympians. There are several different routes in which Para athletes may compete in collegiate programs. At some institutions, NCAA varsity programs provide an inclusive model within the athletic department for Para athletes to compete with their peers on the same team. At others, there are adaptive sport programs for athletes with a disability, club programming or recreational teams.
The USOPC’s Paralympians Made Here campaign allows colleges and universities to use USOPC intellectual property to celebrate their Paralympic footprints, aiming to increase awareness around Paralympic athletes who are currently competing or have competed in the country’s intercollegiate athletics system.
A majority of both U.S. Olympians and Paralympians come from a collegiate background, forming a vital avenue for athletes chasing their athletic dreams.
“We have the best system in the world,” said USOPC Senior Director of Collegiate Partnerships Sarah Wilhelmi. “And it’s evident by how our pipeline organically comes through college to Team USA.”