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Paralympic Athletes Share First Memories Of Their Sport And When They Fell In Love With It

By U.S. Paralympics | Feb. 14, 2018, 12 p.m. (ET)

Ever wonder when and how some of your favorite Para athletes fell in love with their sport? To celebrate Valentine's Day, we asked Jamie Stanton, Kirk Black, Danelle Umstead, Amy Purdy and Oksana Masters to share their first memories of their sport and when they fell in love with it. 

Jamie Stanton, Alpine Skiing

My first memory of skiing was when I was three years old at Boyne Highlands in Michigan. My parents brought my sister and I to the mountain to ski for the day and I absolutely loved it! Although I don’t remember how many times I fell down, or how many runs I took, I do remember taking this photo with my dad and sister (attached). After that day, I remember that every single time it snowed I would tell my parents I wanted to go skiing and I would get super excited! I really began to fall in love with skiing in High School. I made the Varsity team as a freshman and always tried to beat the older kids. I went to Pine Knob (a very small hill in Michigan with less than 200 vertical feet) and would train every day after school. I remember the days when I was sitting in class and all I could think about was wanting it to be the weekend so I could go ski all day! Now, it’s a reality. 


Kirk Black, Wheelchair Curling

I started curling in 2012, but I actually tried it for the very first time in 2007. I was at a National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Milwaukee where a coach came and was showing the sport to individuals. I started playing and he said, ‘Hey, you’re really good at this. How long have you been doing it?’ I said about 30 minutes. And he goes ‘Oh, I’ve got to get you involved in this.’ This was the first time I had done any wheelchair sports. But when I came home, I never heard from him again.

It wasn’t until 2014 when I was skiing up in Aspen and they had another learn-to-curl event. I wasn’t going to go, but my wife was like you really enjoyed it when you did it before. So I went. When I was there, a different coach came up to me and said, ‘You’re really good at this. How long have you been doing it?’ I said the last time was seven years ago and it was for an hour. He said, ‘I have to get you involved in this.’ So I laughed at him. He asked why I was laughing and I told him. He said ‘No, I promise, it won’t happen that way.’ So he invited me out to Lake Placid in 2014. I did the camp and that was where the fire took off. It was then that I knew it was something that I wanted to do, and a sport that I enjoyed.


Danelle Umstead, Para Alpine Skiing

Are you ready for this? I was 29 when I learned how to ski. Pretty much everyone told me I was not going to be able to make the Paralympic Games. I was starting too late. It was going to be really hard for me to catch up. But the determination of, ‘Oh yeah, you think I can’t do this?’ I think I was more proving it to myself. But heart and determination will get you anywhere you want to go.

The moment I knew I wanted to do it forever was the first time I put the skis on. My dad invited me to come to Northern New Mexico and go skiing with him. I was feeling really depressed at the time thinking blind people can’t do anything. The moment we got to the top of the mountain I smelled the fresh air and the pine trees. We headed down the mountain and he started telling me, ‘Right, hold, hold, left, hold, hold.’ With every turn I just felt more and more alive and a sense of freedom and a sense of joy and excitement and adrenaline that I hadn’t felt since my disability.

From that moment on I was like this is what I’m going to do the rest of my life and I don’t care how old I am; I am going to make it happen.


Amy Purdy, Para Snowboarding

I had skied before, but not well. Because I was horrible at skiing I tried snowboarding when I was 15. And I honestly fell in love with it right away. I think it’s because I got the hang of it pretty quickly. But I remember being with my friends the first time I tried snowboarding. I was living in Vegas and we went to southern Utah on a snowboarding trip. I had so much fun. We were in nature, we were in the trees, the snow was fresh. There were no rules. In snowboarding there are no rights or wrongs. You can create whatever trick you want. We were just outside playing and having fun. And I remember when I first felt that, I knew that snowboarding would be in my life forever.


Oksana Masters, Para Nordic Skiing

In 2013 a coach heard that I wanted to try skiing and invited me to a camp in Breckinridge, Colorado. The minute I got on snow, by no means was it a success, at all. I broke so many ski poles and skis that I thought for sure they were going to hate me. I didn’t know how to stop. There are no brakes, so I would just fall. A lot of these things would turn people off from skiing, but I loved it. I loved how hard it was. I loved that you just can’t jump in and get it. It was a way for me to be a student again of another sport and it brought out a whole other side of competition in me.”


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Kirk Black

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Danelle Umstead

Alpine Skiing
US Paralympics
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Amy Purdy

US Paralympics
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Oksana Masters

Nordic Skiing