Monica Bascio is back to cross-country skiing

By Caryn Maconi | March 01, 2014, 10 a.m. (ET)
Monica Bascio
Before winning silver medals in cycling at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Monica Bascio competed in cross-country skiing at the 2006 and 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

Monica Bascio
Monica Bascio competed in cycling at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London after two Games as a cross-country skier. 

Few athletes have been around the sport of Paralympic Nordic skiing for longer than Monica Bascio.

Bascio, 44, has the most Winter Games experience of anyone on the 16-member 2014 U.S. Paralympic Nordic squad that will compete in Sochi from March 7-16.

She competed at both the Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010 Games, earning two top-10 finishes in each appearance.

This year, Bascio expects similar results for herself, though she thinks a few of her teammates are capable of reaching the podium.

“I think we have a good reach of two to three medals,” Bascio said. “My personal goal is to be in the mix, top-10. I would love to be close to the podium, but as the field is growing I know that’s going to be tough. Honestly, that just drives me even more.”

It’s no surprise that Bascio is driven by competition. After becoming paralyzed in an alpine skiing accident in 1992, Bascio couldn’t imagine leaving sports behind. She started handcycling a few years later as a way to stay active with family and friends, though it didn’t take her long to discover competitive Paralympic sport.

Now she may be sitting, but she’s never sitting still.

Bascio was introduced to adaptive cross-country skiing in 2002 after moving from California to her current hometown of Evergreen, Colo. Candace Cable, a 12-time Paralympic medalist in wheelchair racing and cross-country skiing, brought her out on snow in a sit-ski for the first time.

Minutes in, Bascio was hooked.

Something about the combination of the wintry air and the strenuous workout fit Bascio’s adventurous spirit perfectly.

“I remember the first time I went out with (Candace), I just had the most amazing experience being out in the trees,” Bascio said. “I just really liked that feel a lot. I liked pushing my body to the limits and just being out on trails and snow that I would not have been able to access otherwise in a chair.”

She progressed quickly in the sport, earning a fifth place finish at the 2005 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Championships. Since then, she has competed in two Paralympic Winter Games and earned three national titles – not to mention a silver medal at the IPC World Cup of Skiing in 2009.

But Bascio’s talent extends beyond the Nordic trails. She also earned two silver medals in cycling at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. In fact, before transitioning full-time to Nordic skiing for the winter, Bascio earned two gold medals at the 2013 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships and earned the season’s overall world cup title. Her performances earned her the distinction of USOC Paralympic SportsWoman of the Year for 2013.

The 2013 season was Bascio’s last in competitive cycling, and she plans to retire from Nordic skiing as well after the Games. Still, she hopes to leave a legacy in Paralympic sport, inspiring her younger teammates to bring the movement to new levels after she’s gone.

On the cross-country side, those teammates are Oksana Masters, Tatyana McFadden and Beth Requist. Though Masters and McFadden are Paralympians in summer sports, all three will make their Paralympic Winter Games debut in Sochi.

Though she only likes to give advice when asked, Bascio said she tries to be a helpful resource for the less experienced women whenever necessary.

“As I am leaving the sport, I certainly want good energy and good competition coming in,” Bascio said. “So if I can offer something that might be helpful to break the anxiety, I absolutely do. I was just talking to my teammate Beth (Requist) about how sometimes the big picture can be too big. Sometimes you have to break it down, one race at a time, and focus on position or whatever it is.”

Bascio will have her fair share of competition in Sochi, and not just among her U.S. teammates. This season in world cup competition, Russia collected 20 world cup medals, while Germany and Norway earned five and four, respectively. Team USA’s world cup medals, two bronzes, were both earned by Masters.

But for Bascio, being surrounded by talent is a positive thing – and pushing her own limits will always be the best measure of progress.

“I like to see what I can do, see if I can best not only other people, but best my own personal time,” Bascio said. “I like to do the work and see the results – that motivates me a lot. I like time trials and events where it’s just me against the clock. Nordic skiing is a tough sport, but that makes it all the more rewarding.”

The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games will kick off with the Opening Ceremony on March 7, and the first Nordic skiing competitions are set for March 9. NBC and NBC Sports Network will air an unprecedented 52 hours of coverage for the Paralympic Winter Games, including live competition, daily recaps, highlights and analysis. Cross-country skiing will air live on March 9 at 1 a.m. ET and March 15 at 3:30 a.m.