Athlete Blog From Rio - Presented by Samsung

Alana Nichols, 33, is a summer and winter athlete participating in her fifth Paralympic Games, this time as a sprint kayaker in Rio de Janeiro. She’s won a gold medal in wheelchair basketball and two golds in alpine skiing, and could be the first U.S. athlete — in the Olympic or Paralympic Games — to win gold in three sports. She’s sharing her experiences from Brazil, where she’ll compete in the 200-meter sprint kayak beginning Sept. 14.

I Couldn't Feel More At Home

As somebody with a visually apparent disability, in my case being in a wheelchair, I feel so isolated and different in mainstream society. I couldn’t feel more at home at the Paralympic Village here in Rio de Janeiro. 

Just the other day, I saw a woman with no arms pushing her friend who had one arm and no legs in a wheelchair, and I didn’t even flinch at it. It wasn’t even a thing for me.

I just love that we can all feel so normal in this village, this community.

As for the village itself, the actual structure of it is beautiful. We’re surrounded by these rolling green hills, just like you would imagine in Rio de Janeiro. It’s set up much like a huge condominium complex, so there are all these really tall high-rise buildings with the countries’ flags hanging outside of them. We’re sharing a building with Ireland, and I’m looking over at China and the Czech Republic, and Brazil isn’t far.

You kind of know where everyone is, and on any given day you can pass five to 15 countries just on your way to lunch. It’s a really fun international experience.

Nichols and her roommate Kelly Allen cheering on Team USA's 7-a-side-soccer team

Speaking of lunch, the dining hall is great. It’s probably the biggest building on campus, and you’ve got so much variety of food. You can choose pasta or pizza or chow mein, or my favorite is just the meat and potatoes and vegetables kind of meal.

The village also has a skate park, a soccer field, tennis courts with clay and also a swimming pool as well, so it’s like a really nice luxury apartment situation.

A typical day here begins very early. We sprint kayakers are training about an hour away at the Copacabana cluster, so we have to catch the 5:50 a.m. bus every morning. It takes about an hour to get to our venue at the Lagoa (the lagoon and stadium).

I’m up at 5, I get dressed, I head over to breakfast, grab some coffee and a bagel with some yogurt — that’s kind of my go-to pre-racing training meal — and then get on the bus, and that’s just a good time to listen to some music and kind of prepare mentally for the day.

I take some time to stretch and prepare, so I’m out on the water from about 8 to 9:30. Today I caught the 9:50 a.m. bus back to the village and got in about 10:30. Then I was able to get my laundry, unpack my bag, take a shower and get treatment.

I had an interview with an international public radio show called “The Takeaway,” so I’m doing what I can to spread the general knowledge about the Paralympics and also about para-kayak and adaptive surfing. Then I hung out with my roommate (sprint kayaker Kelly Allen) for a few minutes, I filled out some postcards and now I’m just headed to grab a bite. All together, it all doesn’t leave room for much else.

But because my competition isn’t until later in the Games, I’ve had a chance for the first time to do some spectating. Last night I went down to Olympic Park. I saw some swimming live, and I made it to the basketball venue to see some wheelchair basketball.

There’s a lot going on, but it’s about pacing yourself, making sure you’re not wearing yourself out for your competition, but still absorbing the whole experience.