Joy Rondeau is the only sit skier who lives in Colorado, so she welcomed the opportunity to train with other Para athletes this winter in Bozeman, Montana.
Rondeau recently arrived in Bozeman, where the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing national team has been based for the past five winters, despite some car issues. She’ll spend the next two months training with the hope of eventually qualifying for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“It definitely pushes you more. I have more people to chase and more people who are chasing me,” Rondeau said of training with other sit skiers. “So that definitely helps you push yourself more than just skiing against time (with a clock), I guess.”
Rondeau is one of a select group of athletes who are taking part in a new residency program that’s a collaboration between U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing and Crosscut Mountain Sports Center in Bozeman.
Crosscut is a year-round recreation and sports training facility that serves as the home training venue for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing.
With much of the 2020-21 race schedule cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the residency program gives the skiers the opportunity to live, train and race together in Bozeman one year before the Winter Paralympics.
The residency program began Dec. 1 and runs to the end of March.
“Our long-term goal is that athletes will be year-round residents of Bozeman, participating in the Crosscut elite team and eventually the U.S. Paralympics national team once they develop to that level,” said Eileen Carey, director of U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing.
“Between the Crosscut elite team and education opportunities at Montana State University, Bozeman is a great place to develop as an athlete and in life in general. We hope that this partnership will make that more possible for more Para athletes in the future.”
The athletes participating in the residency program range from promising newcomers like Dani Aravich to Winter Paralympic gold medalists Oksana Masters, Kendall Gretsch and Dan Cnossen.
Masters, Gretsch and Cnossen are on the U.S. national team. Rondeau was named to the U.S. development team for the 2020-21 season after making her Winter Paralympic debut at PyeongChang in 2018.
In Bozeman, Rondeau will get to work with Masters, Gretsch and Cnossen on ways to improve her sit skiing — something she can’t do as easily back in Colorado.
“I’m in full-time training currently. I’m on the development team, and I just usually train by myself all the time,” Rondeau said. “So my life pretty much does revolve around training, even at home, but I don’t have the opportunity to train with other disabled athletes because I’m the only sit skier.”
Aravich, who was born missing most of her left arm below the elbow, started Para Nordic skiing only one year ago. She ran cross country at Butler University, and she’s hoping to qualify in the 400-meter dash at this summer’s Tokyo Paralympics.
For the next few months, though, Aravich is focused on learning the nuisances of standing skiing.
“Now that I’m here in Bozeman, my biggest challenge with the sport is learning the details of the technique because … it is such a technical sport and it is very unique — the technique to the sport,” she said.
Aravich said she’s training six days a week in Bozeman. She spends her mornings either skiing or at the shooting range working on the Para biathlon.
Athletes are free later in the day to work out on their own, including doing strength training in their residences. Aravich often goes running and works out at an outdoor track in the afternoon.
“I never would have expected to come here 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.”
Carey said the Bozeman residency program came about as a result of Crosscut forming an elite team program last year. U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing believed it would be ideal to integrate its Para athletes into the Crosscut elite team program.
Crosscut developed standards for all athletes to participate in its elite team program, and Para athletes who qualified were invited to take part in the residency program in Bozeman.
“It is our hope that our sport will continue to grow and we will have more Para Nordic athletes training and competing at a high level,” Carey said. “As this happens, more athletes will be hitting standards set by the Crosscut elite team and able to apply.
“We also hope that other ski and biathlon clubs around the country follow suit and invite Para athletes into their programs.”