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Para Snowboard Racer Brittani Coury Helping Human Race Through Work As A Nurse

By Stuart Lieberman | Oct. 19, 2020, 11:11 a.m. (ET)

Brittani Coury competes during the Women's Banked Slalom SB-LL2 at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games on March 16, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. 

Paralympic silver medalist Brittani Coury has now spent seven months isolated from her family, working as a registered nurse in Utah during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While she’s now based fully on the internal medicine floor and her hours have slowed since the spring, she’s still working nearly 40 hours per week — and oftentimes picking up extra shifts — all while cross training and mountain biking to prepare for the upcoming snowboard season. 

In fact, she went through a 32-day period over the summer in which she worked 28 of those days, and she slept through nearly the entirety of her off days.

Yet seven months in, she wouldn’t change her decision for the world.

“I’m a helper, not a helpee. With the pandemic I saw an opportunity in that they needed people to help in the COVID tent and I jumped right on it,” Coury said.

“I try not to see negativity. I try to live my life based on what I can do to make things better. For me, it’s just about having a bigger appreciation for people all over the world. We’re all humans, and I’m in a role where I’m taking care of other humans. I would value human life over any sporting event.”

The diverse range of patients Coury has treated this year has given her a renewed perspective on humanity. For instance, her four-day struggle to explain how to use an incidence barometer (to open up the lungs) to one of her patients who only spoke the Western Armenian dialect of Karin was four days she will never forget. 

“No matter our differences, whether it’s language or whatever, we are still humans and we can still interact,” she said. “I felt more like a hero that day because of the human aspect of nursing than I did while I was in the COVID tent in full PPE gear.”

Conversations with her patients — as well as family, friends and co-workers — this year have tremendously influenced Coury’s outlook on life. 

“It’s easy to judge somebody off what they say or do, but if you don’t understand who they are as a person, it’s difficult,” she said. “In these challenging times, I encourage others to give each other grace, because they may not understand where somebody else is coming from. Take a moment and have a conversation with someone who has a differing opinion than you, and you may learn something. That could turn out to be a pretty big win, to learn something new.”

If I can impact one person’s life in a positive way, then it’s all worth it.

Coury, who won a silver medal in SB-LL2 banked slalom at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, originally went into the medical field because of the doctors, physical therapists and nurses who were there for her when she chose to have her leg amputated below the knee in 2011 because of bone spurs and ankle problems. 

Snowboarding, meanwhile, has always been more than a sport for Coury — it’s been an outlet that’s helped her navigate emotional trauma, pain and insecurities. In the coming weeks, as the snow begins to fall, Coury will drop down to working two days per week in the hospital so she can dedicate five days per week to the slopes. 

“My goal is definitely to be on the top of the podium. I’m not training to not be No. 1,” she said. “It’s going to be a busy winter for me. There are a lot of uncertainties right now, but I’m hoping we are able to get on the snow with whatever guidelines the mountains have in place.”

Coury recently launched her own website and is also writing a book; though her book project is now taking longer than expected because she recently shifted the focus from sports to her personal life in order to be “fully raw” and “relatable.” 

“Not a lot of people can relate to competing on the largest stage in the world, but a lot of people have insecurities and feel inadequate,” she explained. 

“My goal is to hopefully inspire the next generation to want to be a Paralympic snowboarder. I have several people at any given time contacting me to learn about the sport and ask questions, so my goal is always just to be a good mentor for them. It’s not all glory and silver and gold medals. It does take a lot of dedication and is an expensive sport, so I try to help them navigate grants that may be available to get into the sport or advance to that next level.

“If I can impact one person’s life in a positive way, then it’s all worth it.”

Stuart Lieberman

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSnowboarding.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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