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Teammates Heather Galeotalanza And Erin Martin Share A Bond Beyond Para Nordic Skiing

By Alex Abrams | Oct. 20, 2020, 1:19 p.m. (ET)

Heather Galeotalanza and Erin Martin train to qualify for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.


Heather Galeotalanza and Erin Martin were nurses at Seattle Children’s Hospital at the same time, but they worked in different departments and didn’t cross paths at work.

They finally met when one day when they went to brunch with a mutual friend. Martin and Galeotalanza formed a connection, and since that day their lives have overlapped in the most unexpected ways.

In 2016, three years after Martin injured her spinal cord in a rock-climbing accident, she helped Galeotalanza adjust following her own fall while climbing. Galeotalanza suffered a spinal cord injury that requires her to walk with braces and hiking poles.

Martin uses a wheelchair to get around.

“After I was injured, I reached out to our mutual friend and was like, ‘Hey, could you put me in touch with Erin because I have a spinal cord injury now as well?’” Galeotalanza said.

“And Erin was awesome. She came to see me like every week that I was in the hospital, and we’ve just become really good friends because we both have spinal cord injuries. We have a lot of mutual interests, and we’re both nurses.”

As if they didn’t have enough in common, the two friends became skiing partners after Galeotalanza, 35, introduced Martin, 34, to Para Nordic skiing in the spring of 2019.

While they’re both new to the sport, they hope to soon have another shared experience. Martin and Galeotalanza will train together this winter with the goal of both of them qualifying for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

“I feel so lucky that Heather reached out to me and was open to being my friend and kind of letting me be a part of her experience after her injury,” Martin said. “… It’s so hard to describe, but I feel so lucky to have a friend now that I can talk to that truly understands my experience in a lot of ways.”

With their spinal cord injuries, Galeotalanza and Martin use a technique known as sit skiing to compete in races. Skiers strap themselves into a bucket seat that’s mounted to skis and use ski poles to propel themselves across the snow.

Of course, it wasn’t the type of skiing that Galeotalanza and Martin were accustomed to before their accidents.

Martin grew up in Massachusetts, and Galeotalanza was raised in South Dakota. They each went skiing as kids, but they preferred Alpine skiing to Nordic skiing.

After her fall, Galeotalanza was working as a nurse in the same orthopedic department at Seattle Children’s Hospital as Kyle Nagle, who has served as the U.S. Paralympic Nordic ski team physician. One day, he asked her if she’d be interested in trying skiing.

Galeotalanza said she was open it. In November 2018, she traveled to Lake Placid, New York, to take part in a training camp for Para Nordic skiing at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center.

“I think initially it was a little frustrating because I was used to just strapping on my skis and going skiing all day with my friends, and this felt like I was starting from scratch and relearning a new skill,” Galeotalanza said.

She thought Martin might be interested in also taking up Para Nordic skiing. Martin initially had her reservations, though.

Martin was on a competitive rowing team, and she said she wasn’t sure if she was ready to get off the water and turn her attention to skiing. However, she was convinced to try it after Galeotalanza told her about her experiences with the sport.

Martin admitted she doesn’t know if she would have tried Para Nordic skiing if Galeotalanza hadn’t done it first.

“I live in Seattle, so I don’t deal with snow very much, but it’s kind of intimidating,” Martin said. “It’s not that easy to move around in snow (in a wheelchair), so trying Nordic skiing felt so liberating.

“It kind of almost felt like I was hiking or some type of experience where I was getting outside and away from people and out on my own, on a trail, being able to kind of navigate independently. (It was) just a liberating and exciting feeling for me.”

In January, Galeotalanza competed for the first time in Para Nordic skiing at the 2020 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Sit Ski Nationals in Park City, Utah.

A few months later, Galeotalanza, who lives in Massachusetts, helped treat coronavirus patients as a nurse at Boston Hope, a medical center set up inside the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. She worked 12-hour day shifts at the facility.

Galeotalanza said she plans to move back to the West Coast in November to train with Martin in Washington.

“We can talk about our careers or injuries (or) skiing,” Galeotalanza said of her unusual bond with Martin. “We just have so many pieces of common ground, and she just has been a really good training partner and someone to ask questions and bounce ideas off of. We’re training together this winter, which I’m super excited about.”

Alex Abrams

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USParaNordicSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.