There Is No Place Like Home

Ever wanted to click your ruby red slippers together three times to get back home?  I sure did.  After months on the road traveling to far-away, beautiful places for training and racing all I could think about was being back home.  I made one of the most difficult decisions in my career a few weeks ago.  With a 700-point lead in the Overall World Cup standings I decided to follow my heart and stay home.

Our season began back in August with our opening World Cup events in Australia and New Zealand.  I favor the icy, hard conditions and won seven out of the seven World Cup races Down Under.  A continuous winning streak I had never experienced but knew deep in my heart simply could not continue because that is not the nature of ski racing.  From there things went “downhill” and try as I might to get back on top of the podium again, I made mistakes, crashed and did not finish as many races as I had consecutively won.  All the while my longing for home, family and friends was mounting until I made that difficult decision – go on the road for 22 World Cup races in five different countries over a two month period and race every race BEFORE departing to Sochi -OR- go home, train, rest and feed my soul giving up a chance at the Overall World Cup Globe, a trophy I had not won since 2007!

2007 World Cup Globes

2007 Overall World Cup Globe, Overall World Cup Giant Slalom and Slalom Globes

After hours of consultation with Marcel (my husband, coach and everything), my incredible sports psychologist Suzie and our Alpine Director Kevin Jardine, I determined that winning a gold medal in Sochi and winning the Overall World Cup simply could not be accomplished simultaneously for me this season due to the demands of the travel on the World Cup circuit and time away from training.  I would have to choose one or the other.  I chose to give my best performance in Sochi!

I grew up in a small town (sounds like I am about to start singing the John Cougar Mellencamp song – I’ll spare you), but everything that comes to mind about a small town when someone says, “I grew up in a small town” is true for me.  I did not know when I was growing up how wonderful small town life was. Instead I daydreamed about going to Hollywood and becoming an actress.  I wanted to star in moving dramas that would change people’s lives.  Not until my daydreams came true, and I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at the University of Southern California did I begin to realize the beauty and safety of a simple life in a small community where people say, “hello how are you?” on the street and genuinely care.  I missed my family terribly.  If it weren’t for meeting my still best friend and soul sister Meredith Escabar at University of Southern California, I think I would have perished.  In our household my mother and father both owned their own small businesses.  They modeled hard work, commitment, dedication, honesty and love to my younger brother and me.  Their values became our values and my brother and I both in our own way wanted to grow up and be “good people.” Alone in a city of 12 million people not only did I miss sharing that daily interaction with my family, I realized it was the very core of who I am.

Age 4 - ready for Hollywood!

Age 4 – ready for Hollywood!

The Sundance Film Festival brought me to Park City.  I was promoting a small part in a film (not actually in the festival), which was my acting debut after loosing my legs.  I loved Park City from the moment I arrived (although I had been here before for a ski trip in college and when I spoke at Senator Hatch’s women’s conference two year’s before).  This trip was special because I met Marcel.  I had my first lesson in a mono-ski with him at the National Ability Center.

January 1999 first day I met Marcel and tried a mono-ski at the National Ability Center

January 1999 first day I met Marcel and tried a mono-ski at the National Ability Center

I was so taken by his passion, his love of life and skiing that I would do whatever it took to be on the mountain and ski with him.  The perspective of the world that he showed me from the mountaintop was unlike any other.  I had spent the last three years prior to meeting him in and out of the hospital, having 14 reconstructive surgeries.  From the top of the mountain that day on my very first lesson with Marcel I saw my entire life play out.  Small town girl raised in a loving family pursues acting dreams until one night simply going out to dinner, an out of control car crashed into me and in order to save my life the doctors had to amputate both my legs.  I would never walk or run or dance or stand in the shower as I once had.  My life had changed drastically, but as it holds true for all of us, I knew that my fate, my going forward was still in my hands.  I could create my destiny, my happiness, and my love of life if I so chose. On the mountaintop with Marcel I made the decision that I had no idea would fulfill my creating a new, beautiful life for myself.  I decided to move to Park City, train with Marcel and pursue Paralympic success in Salt Lake City in 2002.

2002 Salt Lake City Paralympic Bronze Medal in Downhill, Marcel cheering in the background

2002 Salt Lake City Paralympic Bronze Medal in Downhill, Marcel cheering in the background

As a result of that decision, on that one day on the mountaintop, I have married the man I love and adore more than anything in the world (in Deer Valley of course!) and I have an amazing career I share with him doing what we both love – ski racing.  Together we have won Gold in the Paralympic Games in Torino and in Vancouver.  We strive to win another this March!

Embracing Marcel in the finish area just after I won my first Paralympic Gold medal in the 2006 Torino Paralympic Games

Embracing Marcel in the finish area just after I won my first Paralympic Gold medal in the 2006 Torino Paralympic Games

I won the first ever, Paralympic Gold medal in Super Combined in the 2010 Vancouver Games

I won the first ever, Paralympic Gold medal in Super Combined in the 2010 Vancouver Games

For the last 15 years throughout my entire ski-racing career, I have been supported by our local community in Park City, a small town we call home.  Deer Valley has sponsored me and been our official home ski area for training.  Marcel and I have spent thousands of hours training in Deer Valley over the last 15 years and we know every square inch of the entire ski area, just like my backyard growing up in Sewickley, PA.  But more important than the safe and familiar, feeling of our home landscape is the connection we share with all the people who work at Deer Valley.  We deeply value the 15-year friendship with the same amazing people who supported me and provided for me in so many ways to make my Paralympic dreams a reality.  The deep bond of friendship we share has for many years felt like family.  I am so grateful to experience on a daily basis the warm welcome from guest services when we roll into Snow Park for training.  The personal inquire about “How I am doing?”, “How is training going?” from people who genuinely care.  Or the chefs who know my special training dietary needs and like my mom still want me to have a chocolate chip cookie reward so they offer me the gluten free one instead!  Deer Valley is my home and the people who work there are my family.  Compared to all the ski areas I have visited world wide, the atmosphere and the people of Deer Valley provide a comfort and charm I associate with the love of my small town upbringing.  I hope it will always stay that way.

We are so fortunate to train both at Deer Valley and at Park City Mountain Resort where we also have an incredible support system not just from our friends at PCMR but from all the teams we join for training at Park City.  My small town connection also includes a 15-year partnership with Rossignol, my ski company who doesn’t just provide me the fastest skis in the world, we share a bond of friendship and they have provided me incredible support.

As I prepare for my fourth Paralympic Games at age 44 in 2014, it only makes sense to return to where I started, to Park City with Marcel and focus on a Gold medal victory one last time.