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With Sochi action underway, get to know three top Paralympian women athletes

With the action underway at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, there are three women Paralympian athletes with remarkable stories to tell. One of these champions is 120-pound Alana Nichols, the first American woman to win gold medals in the Summer and Winter Paralympics (wheelchair basketball in 2008 and Alpine skiing in 2010). Not only a two-sport sensation, Nichols holds her masters in Kinesiology from the University of Alabama.

Tatyana McFadden onstage during the 34th annual Salute to Women In Sports Awards at Cipriani, Wall Street on Oct. 16, 2013 in New York City.
Photo by Mike Coppola

Nichols’ profile web page reports,

“She grew up in Farmington, N.M., and was an avid snowboarder throughout her youth. In 2002, however, Nichols landed back-first on a rock while attempting a backflip on her snowboard. The injury caused her to be paralyzed from the waist down. Nichols didn’t let her athletic career stop there, though, as she began playing wheelchair basketball just two years later.”

Tatyana McFadden

Tatyana McFadden, another Paralympian who was herself born in the Russia that is now in the international media spotlight, finds Nichols an inspiration. McFadden will compete with the USA Nordic Skiing team, when the Winter Paralympics take place in Sochi from March 7 – 16. McFadden is also a premier track star and marathon athlete.

As reported by Nick Zaccardi of NBC OlympicTalk on Jan. 29, McFadden “didn’t take up Nordic skiing until the 2012-13 season.”

‘I think (marathons are) a perfect foundation for cross-country skiing because it takes endurance and it takes strength,’ McFadden said before the Nov. 3 New York City Marathon.”

Mikhalina Lysova Oberried

This year the Russian delegation of 78 athletes to the Winter Paralympics will be the largest ever. Among the athletes who will compete is Mikhalina Lysova Oberried. Most recently, world champion visually-impaired Lysova Oberried and guide Alexey Ivanov beat teammate Iuliia Budaleeva, guided by Tatiana Maltseva in the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup this month. According to Lysova Oberried’s webpage, “since making her international debut in 2007, Mikhalina Lysova has emerged as one of the elite Nordic skiers in the world; and she is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Lysova rose to prominence at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, her first Paralympics, when she captured five medals, one gold, two silver and two bronze.”

As the maxim goes, “Nothing worth having comes easy,” it pays to dig a little deeper into the media coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics to uncover inspiring stories like these about these Paralympians and others like Nichols, McFadden and Lysova Oberried . Not all Olympians need to take home a medal this month or next month in the Sochi Winter Paralympics to be champions. Twenty-seven days from now, NBC and Team USA will be offering coverage of the 2014 Paralympic Games so mark your calendars.

Colorado team sports for athletes with physical disabilities

If you are like most of us and you can’t afford to get to Russia to have a seat in the arena to these world-class athletes compete this month and next, there is a lot of live action locally with Colorado Sled Hockey (CSH) and Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation (CASF). According to the CSH website home page, “In 1971, enthusiastic Norwegian hockey fans developed sled hockey to meet the special recreational, emotional and physical needs of disabled children and adults." Sled hockey was imported to the United States in 1989 and Colorado started its first club 19 years ago in 1995.

If hockey is not your sport, CASF governs and provides support for the team sports for athletes with physical disabilities or challenges, including basketball, softball, tennis, hand cycling and rugby. CASF aims to bolster independence, improve self-confidence, elevate social interaction and enhance quality of life for people of all ages throughout Colorado who have physical disabilities. According to the CASF, the disabled population of Colorado numbered approximately 332,000 individuals in 2007.

Speak up for more media coverage of Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics

Do we, as a society, believes it’s important we make sure that people, young and old, with disabilities know about opportunities that are available to them in team sports? I would say, yes. Telling the stories of these three impressive female Paralympians, as well as speaking out for greater mainstream media coverage of the upcoming Sochi Winter Paralympics, is a step in the right direction.

“I got introduced to wheelchair basketball it was something challenging for me because a basketball wheelchair, it allows you to move fast. It has wheels that are slanted. It has a wheel in the back so that you don’t fall backwards. It has straps that you hook up into your hips and at your knees, so you’re like connected to this wheelchair and … it’s technically a wheelchair person’s equivalent to running and I loved it. I’m going fast and I’m moving myself. That was when I first got cardio and I was sweating, this is awesome. It was also the first time that I met other women in wheelchairs that were also athletes. All these things came together for me… we can compete again, we can challenge each other and get better, we can sweat, we can win games, and we can compete against other basketball teams, including all men’s teams and beat them too.”

“I was like, let’s do this.” – Alana Nichols, in her interview with researcher and writer Jillian Ross

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