Roni Sasaki ’t include herself in the same category as some of her contemporaries on what was then called the U.S. Disabled Ski Team back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
But while athletes such as Diana Golden and Greg Mannino collected more hardware during their careers, being part of the national team at that time ’ just about the medals.
“I was from that era where we really wanted to transition from being, ‘Gee, ’s so neat that you do that,’ to, ‘Wow, you guys are world-class athletes,’ and training and making it our lives,” said Sasaki, who won a gold and two bronze medals at the 1992 Paralympics in Albertville, France. “We were to prove that individuals with disabilities could be just as world class athletes as non-disabled could be. So being part of that was something I’m very proud .”
Sasaki is now 56 years old and lives in Washougal, Washington, a small town across the river from Portland, Oregon. Although she stopped competing soon after Albertville, she still skis often for fun and is still influencing ’s perceptions about the disability community through her podcast, “A Leg Up Life.”
Sasaki was born with one leg and, despite one doctor declaring that she’d never walk, she was doing so with the aid of a prosthetic before she turned 2. What Sasaki really wanted up, however, was to play sports and compete with the able-bodied kids. She dreamed of one day going to the Olympic.
“I ’t much, other than the fact that I had a lot of determination, because I ’t that great at anything I tried,” .
Skiing ’t come about until she was 17. Sasaki’s uncle skied, she said, and he’d always take her brothers with him but never her because they ’t anyone who could teach her. They had called the local ski areas asking where she could get some but no one seemed to know.
“It was surprising because there was a very active club at the time called the Flying Outriggers,” Sasaki said. “It was all different disabilities and they skied at Timberline and Mount Hood Meadows, yet everyone seemed so ignorant of disabled skiers. And I say disabled because ’s what we called ourselves at the time. These days it’s all adaptive.”
Fortunately, a woman by the name of Jan Morrissey, who was a member of the Flying Outriggers and a group called SOAR (Shared Outdoor Adaptive Recreation), learned about teenager with one leg who wanted to learn to ski and gave her a call.
Sasaki kept up with the sport casually after she got to college, and a couple years later when she ran into Morrissey again at a Flying Outriggers she suggested she try an upcoming race. Although hesitant, Sasaki entered and won both her races in the beginner category. It was enough to convince her that racing was something she wanted to pursue.
She began training and qualified for her first nationals in 1985. That led to an invitation to train with the national team in Italy for a couple of weeks one summer, and that sparked the decision to move to Colorado and train full time after graduating from college in the hopes of making the national team.
Two years later she went to her first world championships, and then her childhood dream came true when she went to the Paralympics and won the gold medal in super-G and bronze medals in both slalom and downhill in 1992.
Shortly after she retired from racing, Sasaki started an industrial company that she still runs today called started a family.
Three years ago, she decided to produce the podcast as a way of supporting her public speaking interests, but also help others tell their stories.
“The question was always well, what am I an expert at?” She . “I’m not expert at much of anything, except having one leg. I’m at having one leg because I’ had it my whole life. I thought through that expertise I’d start this podcast and, I mean, I ’t gone viral or but I love every episode and I love meeting people and sharing their stories with others.”
She’s interviewed former teammates, Paralympians and athletes in other sports, cancer survivors, military veterans and many others with a wide variety of disabilities and backgrounds.
One of her most memorable podcasts, she said, was one of her first. A young boy in the community severely injured in a car accident. He had a broken neck, a traumatic brain injury and doctors him off life support. His mother chose not to.
“He ended up coming off life support and was able to move, and six months after the accident I was able to interview him and his mother about the journey thus far, his recovery, the pressure of being told to pull the plug and choosing not to, and having him live through it,” . “The whole community had been watching him via the news and Facebook updates, so to be able to share his story and his ’s story was very impactful.”
Her target audience is more the able-bodied community, she said, and her motivation is not to put anyone on a pedestal but to show those who have disabilities as , average folks who just live a little bit differently.
“Most my guests will say they would not have chosen to to , yet they can see (the opportunities) because of it,” . “Like me, because I had one I was able to become a Paralympic athlete and if I had all four limbs maybe that ’t happened. Because of it we’ all experienced so many incredible things in life that we would not want to take away. For people who listen and hear these stories it’s a good reminder to be for what we have in our lives and realize that something difficult ’t to be a limitation.”
You can find ’s podcasts at https://www.ronisasaki.com/podcast.