Sarah Billmeier on her way to silver in the women's LW2 Super-G during the Salt Lake City Winter Paralympic Games at the Snowbasin ski area in Ogden, Utah.
Alpine skiing was first added to the Paralympic Games program in 1976, and by 1994 athletes were able to compete in slalom, giant slalom, downhill and super-G.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the U.S. Para alpine program included some of the finest skiers on the planet, including future hall of famers whose accomplishments still stand as some of the most impressive in the sport’s history.
Here’s a look at five of the program’s most decorated athletes ever, and what they’ve been up to since retiring from racing:
Billmeier was just 5 years old when she lost her leg to bone cancer. She picked up skiing at age 8 and later went on to compete in four Paralympic Games between 1992 and 2002, winning a total of 13 medals, including seven golds (at least one in each discipline). She also won six world championships over the course of her career, and was inducted into the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame in 2008.
These days, you can find Dr. Billmeier at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. Billmeier graduated from Harvard Medical School in 2006 and got her masters at Harvard School of Public Health in 2010. She completed her residency in general surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in 2014 and the same year joined Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where she focuses on minimally invasive surgery, bariatric surgery and general surgery. Billmeier is also assistant professor of surgery at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.
Will grew up skiing, and after an accident left her paralyzed from the waist down she was on a monoski within a year. She made her Paralympic debut as the youngest member of the U.S. team in 1992 and won gold in both the downhill and super-G. Will would go on to compete in a total of four Paralympics, wrapping up in 2002 when she swept the four disciplines in front of the home crowd in Salt Lake City.
Will retired from racing after those 2002 Winter Games, but her desire to give back and strengthen the disabled community as well as work towards greater accessibility started while she was still competing. Will and teammate Chris Waddell started the Vail Monoski Camp, and after retiring began working toward better access throughout the Vail Valley. Her LinkedIn profile lists her as executive director of AXS (access) Vail Valley, expanding recreation
programs and services for people with disabilities, since 2006. Will also served as a commentator during the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi.
As an above-the-knee amputee, Mannino turned to skiing because it allowed him to be out with family and friends and experience the speed of cruising down the mountain. A speed specialist who skied on one leg, he spent 20 years on the U.S. ski team and went to five Paralympics, winning a total of six gold, four silver and two bronze medals between 1988 and 2002. He also competed in an exhibition event in the 1988 Winter Olympics, taking second in a giant slalom.
Mannino got into the prosthetic industry through working with different companies on testing and development, and he was then hired to do sales and consulting. He began working with veterans during that time, and is still very involved with helping veterans not only get prosthetics but also get on the snow through a variety of camps and other organizations such as Telluride Adaptive Sports Program in Colorado.
A college skiing accident left Waddell paralyzed from the waist down, but his racing career was only getting started. Waddell became the most decorated male monoskier in U.S. history, competing in four Winter Paralympics between 1992 and 2002 and winning 12 medals, including five golds. He added trip to three Summer Games in track and field, and in 2000 he won a silver medal.
Since then Waddell has hardly slowed down. In addition to staying active physically — such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on a hand cycle — he founded One Revolution and the Nametags Assembly Program to teach students about resilience, the labels we put on ourselves and others, and how we address our challenges. He’s also an author of books for both adults and children; a motivational speaker on topics such as the power of change, embracing the struggle and achieving goals; and host of a podcast called “Chris Waddell Living It” that can be found on transistor.fm, YouTube or his Facebook page, @ChrisWaddellLivingIt. Waddell has also served as commentator for alpine events during the Paralympics.
Santos became the first visually impaired racer inducted into the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame in 2015, nearly 20 years after he retired from racing. Santos made his Paralympic debut in 1984 and with guide Ray Watkins competed in four Paralympics, winning six medals, all of them gold, including a 1994 sweep of the four disciplines.
After retiring, Santos started coaching advanced programs with the Mt. Shasta Ski & Snowboard Team in California. In 2018 he was named the organization’s head coach and is still listed as a skiing coach with the organization.