Alana Nichols poses for a photo with her new born son at the Salute to Women in Sports Awards Gala on Oct. 16, 2019 in New York, New York
Five-time Paralympian Alana Nichols’ son is already the G.O.A.T. at 6 months old.
At least in his mother’s eyes.
Nichols gave birth to Gunner Owen Alexander Tuscany last July and he’s already showing clear signs of the six-time Paralympic medalist mother in him.
“He’s the greatest of all time,” Nichols said, only half joking. “I think he’s going to be a little bit of an adrenaline junkie because my partner is also a spinal-cord-injured athlete who broke his back skiing. He doesn’t even have to be an athlete, but he’s already showing signs of athleticism. Every mom says this, but he really is advanced.”
Nichols has competed on the Paralympic stage in wheelchair basketball, alpine skiing and paracanoe, winning gold medals at both the summer and winter editions of the Games. Next month will mark 10 years since she brought home four medals in her Paralympic Winter Games debut in Vancouver.
But Nichols’ life has changed “immensely” since she had a bad crash in a training run just before the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“It was very obvious to me that would be my last crash and my career was over,” she said. “I’d always wanted to start a family and when I finally closed the door to my athletic career, I fell in love immediately after. Next thing you know, we are pregnant with a little boy.”
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While Nichols has hung up her skis — and sidelined her basketball chair and canoe — on a competitive basis, she’s entering a new role as both a mother and a leader in the Paralympic Movement. Earlier this year, the 36-year-old began her stint as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which works to advance the lives of women and girls through sports and physical activity. She’s the second Paralympian to hold the WSF president role, and her son has already had a kiss on the cheek from WSF founder and tennis icon Billie Jean King.
“I’m really grateful that this foundation knows how to support someone in this role as president, especially as a new mom,” Nichols said. “I also couldn’t have asked for a better president to follow, (U.S. Olympic bobsled medalist) Elana Meyers Taylor, who is currently pregnant herself. She really set me up for success.”
Nichols, who has served on the WSF’s board for the last six years, is dedicated to reversing the strong dropout rate for young women in sports.
“There’s a cyclical nature that starts with young girls who don’t have the same opportunities as boys,” Nichols said. “Then there’s Title IX compliance issues through high school and after that the media piece where there’s not equality in coverage. It always comes back around to that little girl who isn’t able to see women winning and so she can’t see herself there finding success in her sport, so she won’t stay in it.”
Nichols was recently with the WSF in Washington, D.C., for National Girls and Women in Sports Day, lobbying on Capitol Hill to inform political representatives of their new “Chasing Equity” landscape research report, which reveals the current landscape for girls and women in sports, including challenges, barriers, progress and opportunities. Using the findings, WSF staff developed calls to action that stakeholders and the public can use as a springboard for change.
Nichols has also tasked the WSF with working to help better the athlete development pipeline for female Para athletes, whether it’s increasing opportunities or providing grant money. On a personal level, having grown up in northern New Mexico, she’s also hoping to assist girls and women from the Native American population.
Nichols’ partner, Roy Tuscany, was also a Para skier who is consumed with nonprofit work of his own. He founded the High Fives Foundation to raise injury prevention awareness after sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2006.
Nichols hasn’t retired from competitive athletics altogether just yet, though, as she’s still participating in surfing competitions and has been a strong advocate of trying to add surfing to the 2028 Paralympic Games.
But in order to balance it all, she’s taking it one nap at a time.
“There’s nobody more productive than a mom during nap time!” she joked. “I thought that things would slow down, but I took a month off after birth and then Gunnar took his first trip at four weeks and he’s been on 12 round trip flights since then in six months.”
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.