Fourteen names to know for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Feb. 07, 2014, 10 a.m. (ET)

The final countdown is on.

The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games start in one month.

Just two weeks after Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games, the Paralympic Winter Games will take place March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia. The Paralympic Winter Games will feature seven disciplines of five sports, as recognized by the International Paralympic Committee, for a total of 72 medal events, including men's and women's standing snowboard cross, which will make its debut in Sochi as a part of the alpine skiing program.

The United States will compete in each of the five sports (alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling) contested in Sochi with a team of more than 70 athletes. All sports, as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, will be a part of the unprecedented 50 hours of television coverage on NBC and NBC Sports Network.

Here are the names you need to know before watching the Games:

Steve Cash, sled hockey

Steve Cash is one of the most respected goaltenders in the world. In 2009, he helped the United States to its first-ever International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships (A) title, starting each game. The United States Olympic Committee recognized him as the 2009 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. At the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, the second Games of his career, he did not allow a goal in five contests, stopping all 33 shots including a penalty shot attempt in the gold medal game. He received the “Best Male Athlete with a Disability” ESPY Award following the Games. Cash had a .923 save percentage at 2012 worlds. Undefeated heading into the finale of the 2013 worlds, Team USA allowed Canada to score the decisive goal at 2:07 of the second period. Cash made 14 saves otherwise in the gold medal game but the one that got away proved to be the difference maker. Cash was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) of the right knee in October 1992. At 3 years old, his leg was amputated.

Taylor Chace, sled hockey

Taylor Chace

In October 2002, Taylor Chace suffered a broken back and an incomplete spinal cord injury when he was hit during a hockey game as a member of the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s New Hampshire Monarchs at the age of 16. While studying at the University of New Hampshire less than two years later, Chace was introduced to sled hockey through the school's Northeast Passage program. He competed for the United States at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA won the bronze medal, and the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA won the gold medal. He was named the tournament’s top defenseman. Following the Games, the United States Olympic Committee recognized him as the 2010 Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. His career has continued to flourish, even earning the IPC Athlete of the Month honor in December 2012 after he recorded the lone goal in Team USA’s 1-0 victory over Canada at the World Sledge Challenge. He was named best defenseman of 2013 worlds. Chance graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2011 with a sports studies degree.

Lieutenant Commander Dan Cnossen, Nordic skiing

Dan Cnossen

Dan Cnossen, who competed in multiple sports at the 2011 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte for Navy/Coast Guard, will make his Paralympic Games debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in biathlon and cross-country skiing. He joined the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing program in 2010. At the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis., he won four of the 13 medals claimed by Team USA, with two each in cross-country skiing and biathlon. It was one of the best performances by a U.S. Nordic skier in history. Cnossen, the only active duty athlete on the military rich 2014 U.S. Paralympic Nordic Skiing Team, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. On the first day of his promotion to lieutenant, he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, resulting in the amputation of both legs. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V (for valor) from the Secretary of the Navy.

Oksana Masters, Nordic skiing

Oksana Masters

With partner Rob Jones at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Oksana Masters won the first ever United States medal in trunk and arms mixed double sculls. She was later named the USRowing Female Athlete of the Year, becoming the first Paralympic athlete to earn that distinction. She is now transitioning to Nordic skiing with instant success. After winning a bronze medal in the women’s 5-kilometer sit-ski cross-country skiing race at the world cup in Canmore, Alberta, in December 2013, she won a bronze in the women’s 12-kilometer sit-ski race at the world cup final in January. Can she move up on the podium come March? Abandoned by her birth parents in what is now known as Ukraine, Masters lived in a Ukrainian orphanage until she was adopted by an American woman at age 7. She was born with several radiation-induced birth defects, including tibial hemimelia.

Patrick McDonald, wheelchair curling

Patrick McDonald, a U.S. Army veteran, lost the use of his legs in 1991 when the armored personnel carrier he was riding in rolled on the way back from patrol in Korea. A life-long athlete, he turned to sport for rehabilitation. McDonald began curling in 2007. The Team USA skip since 2012, he competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where Team USA was fourth, and three World Curling Federation World Wheelchair Championships. In Sochi, he hopes to lead his country to its first ever wheelchair curling medal at the Games. McDonald also enjoys golf and shooting. He is involved in breast cancer awareness and literacy causes. He and his wife, Carrie, have one daughter, Andie, and one son, Kaelen.

Alana Nichols, alpine skiing

Alana Nichols

A native of Farmington, N.M., Alana Nichols is back in contention for a medal at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games podium after a shoulder injury knocked her out of competition for several months. Following a crash at Mount Hood, Ore., in June 2013, Nichols made a return to competition in January, winning multiple medals in international competition, including on the world cup circuit. In Vancouver, she won four medals – including two gold medals – in women’s sit skiing events, making her the most decorated American at the Games. She also has a gold medal from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games (wheelchair basketball). Nichols is the first American woman to win gold at the summer and winter Games. In 2000, while snowboarding in Colorado, she attempted a back flip but over-rotated and landed with her back on a rock. She was instantly paralyzed from the waist down.

Josh Pauls, sled hockey

Josh Pauls

Josh Pauls has an unusual habit. Before each game he plays with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, he faces a Mr. Potatohead figure towards the opponent’s locker room. A serious or silly superstition, Pauls has had no shortage of success with Team USA.  At 17, he was the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team that won the gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. He also helped the U.S. to gold at the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships (A), recording one goal and one assist while playing in all five games. He has now emerged as Team USA’s leading scorer in 2012-13 with 12 points on five goals and seven assists. Pauls was born without tibia bones in both legs. At 10 months old, both legs were amputated.

Amy Purdy, snowboarding

Amy Purdy

The season has not gone as planned for Amy Purdy but she’s ready to turn it around in Sochi. After missing the podium in two consecutive world cup races on her home course at Copper Mountain, Colo., following some equipment modifications, she went on to win a silver and bronze at the next world cup races at Big White, B.C. Purdy is currently ranked second in the world along with teammate Heidi Jo Duce, the national champion. At the age of 19, Purdy contracted Neisseria meningitis, a form of bacterial meningitis.  Due to the disease, which affected her circulatory system, both of her legs had to be amputated below the knee and her spleen had to be removed.  Two years later, she received a kidney transplant from her father. Her friends now refer to her by the nickname “Lucky”. Purdy, a Las Vegas native who co-founded Adaptive Action Sports, one of the top para-snowboard organizations in the country, is also a model and actress in addition to a world silver medalist. In 2012, she was a contestant on “The Amazing Race” reality television competition with her boyfriend.

Evan Strong, snowboarding

Evan Strong

Evan Strong is currently ranked No. 1 internationally in men’s standing snowboard cross with teammate Mike Shea. Strong beating teammates Keith Gabel and Mike Shea at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships, just before snowboarding was added to the program for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. He also won the men's event at the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard Test Event, March 6, in Sochi, Russia. A native of Hawaii, he grew up wanting to be a professional skateboarder. With a few years’ experience under his belt, Strong was ready to begin traveling for skateboard competitions, until his entire life took a turn. Stephanie, his older sister, received a motorcycle for her 21st birthday. In 2004, when Strong was 17, he missed his ride to work and needed to borrow the motorcycle.  A mile from home, Strong was struck by a drunk driver. She crossed over the line into oncoming traffic, striking the car in front of Strong and hitting him head on at full speed. His left leg was amputated three days later. After five surgeries in the week following the accident, Strong assured his family that he would skate again. He did. Later, he found snowboarding while at his uncle’s vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho. Strong now lives Nevada City, Calif., about an hour’s drive west of Lake Tahoe. He and his wife, Mariah, also operate their organic vegetarian restaurant, The Fix for Foodies.

Mike Shea, snowboarding

Mike Shea

Mike Shea has claimed four of five world cup gold medals this season with the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup Finals set for next week in La Molina, Spain. Will he become the first ever Paralympic gold medalist in snowboarding when it debuts in March? Before he punched his ticket to Sochi, Russia, Shea built custom furniture in his garage. In 2010, after he was laid off from his job at an aerospace engineering facility, he packed up his woodshop and sold his tools in order to focus solely on his sport and finance his snowboard training. That December, Shea, who had his left leg amputated below the knee after a rope became wrapped around his ankle while wakeboarding, moved from Los Angeles to Colorado to train. It was in Colorado that his career flourished. He finished third at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships behind teammates Evan Strong and Keith Gabel. Shea has only been beaten twice this season, once by Gabel at a European race and once by Strong at a world cup. Shea now shares the world No. 1 ranking with Strong. (Gabel is tied for No. 3 with New Zealand’s Carl Murphy.)

Andy Soule, Nordic skiing

Andy Soule

Andy Soule was attending Texas A&M University as a member of the Corps of Cadets when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. Following 9/11, Soule left school to enlist in the U.S. Army. Soon after basic training, he was deployed to Afghanistan where an improvised explosive device detonated next to Soule's Humvee, resulting in double leg amputation. Looking for a way to stay active, Soule attended a cross-country skiing recruitment camp in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2005. He was instantly hooked on Nordic skiing. On the opening day of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games competition, Soule won the bronze medal in the men’s sitting 2.4-kilometer individual pursuit, becoming the first U.S. athlete to medal in biathlon at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games. Soule took the last two years off to study ballistics. Now he is back, eyeing Team USA’s first-ever gold medal in biathlon. Soule won the silver medal in the middle biathlon event at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis.

Tyler Walker, alpine skiing

Tyler Walker

Born without much of his spine and then losing his legs at age 4, Tyler Walker made big gains every year in his quest to become one of the top mono-skiers in the world. He captured his first world cup win in 2004 in giant slalom and his first title in 2006, also in giant slalom. Walker is the 2009 Overall World Cup Downhill Champion. Vancouver marked the second Paralympic Winter Games competition for Walker, who is looking for his first medal in Sochi. He is currently a leader in the overall world cup standings. Walker is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire where he has degrees in geography and international affairs and minors in German and political science.

Danelle Umstead, alpine skiing

Danelle Umstead, who is a visually impaired alpine skier, competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games with her husband Rob Umstead, who serves as her guide. In Vancouver, the husband and wife duo won bronze medals in the downhill and combined. One of her biggest competitors will be her own teammate: 17 year old Staci Mannella. At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes blindness. Currently, her spotted vision limits her sight to less than five feet, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. There is no chance of return vision, nor is there a cure. She was also recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and central nervous system. A native of Plano, Texas, she once lived in Taos, N.M., and now resides in Park City, Utah, and Winter Park, Colo., with her husband Rob and their son Brocton. Danelle's guide dog, Bettylynn, who was matched with her in September 2008, retired in 2013 due to blindness. 

Stephani Victor, alpine skiing 

Three-time U.S. Paralympian Stephani Victor’s Road to Sochi is paved in gold. In August 2013, she opened up the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup season with four consecutive victories. In the first world cup in Coronet Peak, New Zealand, Victor beat out teammate Laurie Stephens in the women’s slalom sitting race by more than seven seconds on Aug. 22. On Aug. 23, she won another slalom title by more than 24 seconds. In Mt. Hutt, New Zealand, she claimed the women’s super-G title by more than eight seconds over Victoria Pendergast of Australia. She won seven total gold medals in the first two world cup events. With the momentum of her performance Down Under and a strong start to 2014, Victor looks to build on the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where she won the gold medal in super combined and silver medals in slalom and giant slalom.