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Roni Sasaki, 1992 Paralympic Skiing Champ, Uses Podcast To Share Stories From The Disability Community

By Karen Price | April 07, 2021, 12:41 p.m. (ET)

Roni Sasaki doesnt 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 wasnt just about the medals.

I was from that era where we really wanted to transition from being, Gee, its 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 really out to prove that individuals with disabilities could be just as much world class athletes as non-disabled persons could be. So being part of that was something Im very proud of.

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 peoples perceptions about the disability community through her podcast, A Leg Up on Life.

Sasaki was born with one leg and, despite one doctor declaring that shed never walk, she was doing so with the aid of a prosthetic before she turned 2. What Sasaki really wanted growing up, however, was to play sports and compete with the able-bodied kids. She dreamed of one day going to the OlympicGames.

didnprove much, other than the fact that I had a lot of determination, because I wasnt that great at anything I tried,” shesaid.

Skiing didnt come about until she was 17. Sasakis uncle skied, she said, and hed always take her brothers with him but never her because they didnknow anyone who could teach her. They had called the local ski areas asking where she could get some instruction 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 thats what we called ourselves at the time. These days its 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 the 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 event 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 EnviroMetand also started a family.

Three years ago, she decided to produce the podcast as a way of supporting her public speaking interests, but also as a way to help others tell their stories.

The question was always well, what am I an expert at?” She saidIm not expert at much of anything, except having one leg. Ireally good at having one leg because Ive had it my whole life. I thought through that expertise Id start this podcast and, I mean, I havent gone viral or anything but I love every episode and I love meeting people and sharing their stories with others.

Shes 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 had been severely injured in a car accident. He had a broken neck, a traumatic brain injury and doctors advised taking 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,” shesaidThe whole community had been watching him via the news and Facebook updates, so to be able to share his story and his mothers 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 everyday, average folks who just live a little bit differently.

Most all of my guests will say they would not have chosen to have happen to them what did, yet they can see (the opportunities) because of it,” shesaidLike me, because I had one leg I was able to become a Paralympic athlete and if I had all four limbs maybe that wouldnhave happened. Because of it weve all experienced so many incredible things in life that we would not want to take away. For people who listen and hear these stories its a good reminder to be really grateful for what we have in our lives and realize that something difficult doesnhave to be a limitation.

You can find Sasakis podcasts at https://www.ronisasaki.com/podcast.

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USParaAlpineSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.