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.

Friends From All Over The World

The sense of adventure I feel every time I leave my dorm room is amazing. There are all these wonderful athletes here from around the world, and I think we’re all open to the possibility of being friends. You just have to know that even if you can’t communicate well because of a language barrier, it can be done. These are my fifth Games, and I’ve made friends from all over the world at each of them.

One of my favorite memories was from Vancouver in 2010. We were in an athlete lounge that had a setup for Guitar Hero. There was a drum set, a lead guitar, a bass and a microphone. At one point I found myself on the guitar looking over at a Chilean playing the drums, and we couldn’t speak a lick of each other’s language but, through music, we just connected and we had so much fun and laughed like crazy.

I haven’t seen some of these folks since London in 2012, so four years later we run into each other and it’s all screaming and fun. It’s incredible to reconnect with everyone on such a monumental occasion. These are people who have been training for four years, and they’ve been working really hard, so it’s a happy time, like, “We’re here! We made it!” It’s just good energy.

I have a friend from Brazil who is going to take me surfing. I have this Chilean tennis player friend I saw in the cafeteria, and a friend from Mexico who’s running the Proud Paralympian program.

As a basketball player, I tended to stay in my niche group, but as an alpine skier I was essentially an individual athlete, free to roam about and make friends. Now as a sprint kayker there’s only three of us, so I’m really rolling solo and I love it.

I sit with different people in the cafeteria just about every time I go and have really fun conversations. I sat next to some Norwegians at the McDonald’s the other day and we were talking about my bucket-list goal of kayaking the fjords in Norway, and one told me about this awesome Arctic kayak race I need to be a part of. We exchanged Facebook information, and she’ll be the first one I call when I make it out there. That all happened over dinner. So, I have friends in Norway now.

There are so many things you can learn from so many really innovative people with disabilities. It’s incredible to see how they’ve adapted their lives to make themselves happy.

The whole experience is inspirational and educational. All the cultural differences and conversations just open up my mind and help me entertain thoughts of traveling and doing all these fun, adventurous things, because other people are doing them. It’s really an eye-opener.