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Up For The Challenge, Dani Aravich Is Aiming For Paralympic Debuts In Two Sports

By Alex Abrams | Jan. 17, 2021, 5:43 p.m. (ET)

Dani Aravich moved to Bozeman, Montana, in early December and will spend the next few months training nearly every day in Nordic skiing.

She knows, however, that her workouts will change dramatically after April 1. Once the spring arrives, she’ll return to Utah and work on getting even faster in the 400-meter sprint.

Aravich, 24, grew up competing in sports like any other kid despite being born missing most of her left arm below the elbow. She ran cross-country at Butler University, and she didn’t even know about adaptive sports until a few years ago.

Aravich said she now hopes to qualify as a sprinter for next summer’s Tokyo Paralympics and then as a Nordic skier at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. It’s a quick turnaround that won’t give her much time to rest.

“It’s definitely a lofty goal considering I haven’t been to a Games yet, whereas some of the older and more experienced athletes on the Nordic team have had a long history of qualifying for both (the) Summer and Winter (Paralympics),” Aravich said.

“But since I’m new to the adaptive sports world, my goal was Tokyo, but now with the opportunities in winter sports, I would love to also qualify for Beijing.”

As a standing skier, Aravich uses only one ski pole that she holds in her right hand. 

She’s training six days a week as part of a four-month residency program that’s a collaboration between U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing and Crosscut Mountain Sports Center in Bozeman.

Aravich said her workouts for Nordic skiing last much longer and the distances she covers are far greater than what she’s accustomed to in the 400-meter run, which can take less than 1 minute to complete.

“I never would have expected to come here (to Bozeman) for the winter, honestly, particularly with Tokyo coming up now in the summer of ’21,” Aravich said. “… My track coach is located in Utah, and I have access to an indoor track there. My strength coaches are in Utah.

“So by me coming, I’m basically saying I am investing in this winter sport because I am basically taking a several-months break from my summer sport in order to give Nordic a real shot in the hopes of qualifying for 2022 in Beijing.”

Until recently, Aravich didn’t even know she was eligible to compete in the Winter or Summer Paralympics. 

She had graduated from Butler and was working a full-time job when someone told her that she should look into the Paralympics as an opportunity to continue competing in track and field.

Aravich started training again in track last January, and she had performed well enough in the 400 to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials. 

Around the same time, BethAnn Chamberlain, the U.S. Paralympics Nordic development coach, learned about Aravich. She was told that Aravich could have potential in Nordic skiing because of her endurance-based background.

Last December, Aravich attended a weeklong Nordic skiing developmental camp in Breckenridge, Colorado. However, it didn’t go so well at first.

She struggled to keep her balance while skiing.

“I would say having an alpine ski background did not help me at all,” said Aravich, who started alpine skiing with her family at age 3 in Boise, Idaho. “The two are so different, and I mean just even the equipment is so different.

“Still, when I go from alpine skiing to Nordic, I get a little bit tripped up on the skis each time because going from one to another is so vastly different. So I would say I was pretty clumsy on Nordic skis the first time I got on them.”

Aravich has a sense of humor about having only one hand. Her Instagram account refers to her as “The One Arm Dan” and includes the line: “Single handedly changed your life.” 

“When my mom was pregnant with me, in the ultrasound, they never had any idea that I was going to be born without my hand and they still don’t know what the actual reason was technically,” Aravich said. 

“So they were quite surprised when I was born without my hand, and I think initially they were just very worried that it could bring hardships, again them not knowing anyone really who had a disability who was close to them. So they just had no understanding.”

Aravich said her parents started to think she’d be fine after they saw other kids who looked like her at the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Her parents stressed that she was like anyone else playing sports.

Growing up, Aravich spent hours at night sitting in front of a TV as she practiced quickly taking her softball glove off her right hand and switching it to her shorter left arm so she could throw.

She wanted to get good at it, and she had to figure it out on her own.

“I didn’t know anyone growing up who really looked like me, and I didn’t know anything about adaptive sports,” Aravich said. “I always participated in able-bodied sports. And so for basketball for shooting (or) for softball for catching and batting, it was mostly experimentation and then just trying to practice those adaptations.”

Aravich is still experimenting and adapting, except now she hopes it results in a trip to both the Summer and Winter Paralympics.

“It’s only been a year since I first tried (Nordic skiing), but now that I’m here in Bozeman my biggest challenge with the sport is learning the details of the technique,” Aravich said, “because as a standing skier it is such a technical sport.”

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.