14 for 14: Melanie Schwartz, alpine skiing

By Melanie Schwartz | Oct. 14, 2013, 9 a.m. (ET)
Melanie Schwartz
A former competitor for Canada, alpine skier Melanie Schwartz is now one of the top hopefuls for the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team.

Melanie Schwartz
Melanie Schwartz won a slalom gold medal during the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup in Queenstown, New Zealand.

My name is Melanie Schwartz. At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, I skied in four events for Canada, highlighted by a 10th place finish in the super combined event. I now ski for the United States with the dream of making the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. 

In the 2013-14 season, I have already won three medals on the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit, including a gold medal in the slalom race in New Zealand. 

Here are 14 things you should know about me as I strive towards Sochi:

1. I love to cook.

I like to be creative in the kitchen, so almost everything I cook is made from my two favorite “recipes” which I call “Ingredients in a pan” and “Ingredients in a crock pot”. Since my recipes are open to interpretation, they turn out completely different each time. I simply use whatever ingredients are available and a little imagination. I worry about cooking for other people because my creations don't always turn out as expected. In case you are wondering, I also know how to use an oven.

2. I am a nerd.

My sisters love to tease me for being a geek. I used to deny it, but now I can admit that I have a nerdy side. My brain is good with logic and I hold a degree in computer science. I even built my website from scratch just for the fun of it. If  you go to www.MelanieSchwartz.ca you will see that it is pretty minimalistic and straightforward because I did everything myself.

3. My brain is space efficient.

I have an abnormally small head. Most of my teammates wear medium and large helmets. My helmet is an extra-small and it is a tad too big. I take hand-me down helmets from small children.

4. One season turned into seven years.

I got involved in racing on the assumption that it would be a one season commitment. I moved to a new city for a four month co-op job. I decided to take a one-year hiatus from teaching skiing to disabled children with the Ontario Track 3 Ski Association to try racing. Somehow I got hooked on racing and my one-year experiment developed into a career of seven years and counting.

5. I have a quote board.

I keep a quote board on my wall with quotes from a variety of sources. Some of the quotes are funny, such as “An apple a day will keep anyone away if you throw it hard enough”. Others are motivational: “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever”. Some quotes are reminders of personal situations. For example, after living in the same condo as my teammates' five-year-old son for a couple weeks he looked at me and said “You walk like Allison” referring to Allison Jones, a teammate with a similar disability. My quote board is currently full and I am ready to start a second quote board.

6. I can lick my elbow.

You thought it was impossible for someone to lick their own elbow, but you are wrong. Sign me up for the circus, because I can actually lick my elbow – no tricks, just flexible shoulders. I didn't think it was possible until a teammate with an underdeveloped arm showed off that he could lick his elbow since his arm is shorter than normal. So I decided to try and found that I can do it too. For some strange reason, I can only reach my right elbow.

7. I've never had a beach vacation.

I've visited ski resorts around the world, but I've never had an all-inclusive beach or cruise vacation. I've been to California and Florida and spent one day on the beach as part of a longer trip. But I can't fathom a vacation that revolves around relaxation.

8. I am a dual citizen.

I was born and raised in Canada and currently live in Colorado. I competed at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games with the Canadian team. It was an incredible experience to compete in my own country. I hope that I will have the opportunity to compete with the American team in Sochi because that will be a different, but equally amazing honor.

9. I was initiated for Team USA.

Coming from the Canadian team, my new American teammates have some expectations for me. When I first joined the team, I was told that I need to learn all 32 NFL teams. I was a little baffled that this would be the top priority for American knowledge. I quickly memorized all the teams and I am subject to random NFL testing. More recently, I was instructed to learn The Star-Spangled Banner. I'm surprised that this requirement was a lower priority than the NFL teams but I'm happy to announce that I've finally learned it.

10. I am in a sorority.

Anyone who knows me, including my sorority sisters, will tell you that I'm not the sorority girl type. Regardless, joining Simga Lambda Gamma was one of the best things I did in university. In addition to the social benefits of a sisterhood, I held a number of different positions within the group and gained leadership skills.

11. I am missing my hip.

Many people recognize that I am missing the bottom part of my right leg. They often don't realize that I am also missing most of my right hip. This is the reason that I ski on one ski rather than skiing on a prosthetic leg and two skis. In fact, I learned to ski on two skis but I could not control the right one. My lack of hip and the related muscles explains why I limp more than other leg amputees with stumps of similar length. My father, who should be accustomed to my gait, admits that he thinks I'm going to fall over every time I take a step.

12. I am a tree-hugger.

I am a bit of an environmentalist. I avoid using plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags and items with too much packaging. I prefer to bike, take public transit or carpool rather than drive. I hate wasting food and eat everything before it goes bad. I try to recycle, re-purpose or donate things rather than throwing them out. I mend and sew things or fix them with duct tape.

13. I am a foam-a-phobe.

I hate touching certain textures. Porous foam is the worst, but I also dislike velvet. Some people get a shiver down their spine when they hear the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. That's how I feel about foam.

14. I raced in high school.

I was on my high school ski team for two years. Unfortunately I did not know the first thing about ski racing, not even the rules. Our season consisted of a couple races but no training. In most of my races I fell and got up and kept going, sometimes falling multiple times. I was the only adaptive skier and my name was always last on the results sheet. There was one race where I finished second last instead of last. We were on the bus when I saw the results sheet and I was so excited that I loudly exclaimed that I wasn't last. I quickly regretted it when I saw the girl who had placed last sitting right behind me.