Oyuna Uranchimeg looks on during wheelchair curling competition against Team Norway during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 7, 2022 in Beijing, China.
BEIJING – As she wheels her way around the Paralympic bubble in the Chinese capital, Batoyun Uranchimeg exudes a feeling of tranquility wherever she goes and to whomever she speaks with.
Calm, cool and collected, the 48-year-old lead on the U.S. wheelchair curling team is handling every experience — from the local cuisine to delivery robots to the Paralympic souvenir shop — as if she’s been here before.
Yet when asked about it, she shares the perspective of a rookie, exposing a feeling of self-surprise.
“I was just a mom raising kids,” she said. “Never in a million years did I imagine I’d be here, yet alone a competitive athlete representing Team USA. Not in my wildest dreams.”
Originally from Mongolia, Uranchimeg, who goes by Oyuna (or just O for short), was visiting a friend in the U.S. about 22 years ago when she was involved in a serious car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her injury kept her from returning to Mongolia and her then 6-year-old son, who she wouldn’t have with her in Minnesota for another eight years until she became a U.S. citizen.
But she believes if she didn’t have a child, then she probably would have been gone the day of the accident.
“A parent with a child can’t die,” she says.
Her family all applied for visas to the U.S. but got denied. And this was in 2000, when cell phones weren’t common and there was no social media, leaving her to use only international calling cards to contact them. She had to whisper in their conversations, as her vocal cords were weak following her accident.
“At the time, when the accident happened, nothing was certain. Everything was very uncertain,” she said. “I was in a foreign land, away from my family and everything I knew. It was a really hard time of course, but I figured it out with the help of a lot of people who helped me along the way and supported me.”
She ended up staying to build a life in the Twin Cities, working at the University of St. Thomas and ultimately raising her two children there. Her son is now 27 and her daughter 21. She’s always happy to boast about her daughter’s neuroscience degree and aspirations for medical school as she studies for the MCAT, and she lights up when talking about how her kids are following her journey in Beijing.
“They are extremely happy and so proud that their mom is a Paralympian, and I hope they are getting inspired and I’m setting a good example for them to go after whatever their own goals in life are,” she said.