Celebrity Visits

Nichols an athlete for all seasons

Somewhere out there, on some unsuspecting sea, there’s a wave with Alana Nichols’ name on it.

On a recent visit to ESPN, the first American woman to win gold in both the Winter and Summer Paralympics raved about her latest discovery.

“I just found out about this new thing called a wave ski. It’s more or less an adapted surfboard with a seat on it, a little Velcro strap. You can paddle it like kayak, ride it sideways,” Nichols said.

Surfing might have to wait.

Nichols continues her unique cross training for wheelchair basketball and adaptive skiing as she sets her sights on competing in the 2012 Summer Games in London and 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Nichols regaled ESPN employees with her inspiring story as a guest of ENABLED, one of the company’s Employee Resource Groups.

The recent Winter X Games competitor is working with ENABLED, which has 75 members, to help raise awareness about the capabilities of people with disabilities.

Nichols, 27, broke her back in a snowboarding accident in New Mexico in 2001.

“There’s a fine line between courage and crazy. When I broke my back at 17, doing a backflip, that was on the crazy side of things,” she said.

“As a ski racer and someone with a disability for 10 years now, I’ve learned a lot from that experience. I’ve been able to assess the consequences of my actions and follow through with real courage instead of being crazy.”

For two years after her accident, “I mourned my loss as an athlete,” she said.

Seeing other young women compete and excel at wheelchair basketball compelled her to try the sport.

Situated directly under the basket, she could not make a shot in the beginning.

But her determination helped her make the University of Arizona’s squad, then eventually the U.S. National Team.

In 2008 in Beijing, the guard helped her team win Olympic gold.

That would have been achievement enough for many people, but that’s just one of Nichols’ laurels.

When she wasn’t preparing herself for basketball, she learned adaptive skiing. She was a recreational skier for six years until she began thinking about competing in 2008.

By the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver, she had won two gold and two silver medals.

“The X factor in ski racing is being able to want to go fast. I just had that naturally,” said Nichols, a Denver resident who is also the 2010 Colorado Sportswoman Of
The Year.

“It wasn’t a matter of trying to figure how to make me go fast. I already had that. It was a matter of refining my skills.”

Did we mention that between these accomplishments she also earned her masters in kinesiology from the University of Alabama?

Nichols, who also has skydived and mountain biked in recent years, seems fearless.

In January’s Winter X Games, she became only the second woman to compete in Mono-skier X.

She enjoys whooshing downhill at speeds approaching 70 miles per hour.

“Yes, I also worry about further injury. In ski racing, whether you’re able-bodied or disabled, it’s not a matter of if but when you’re going to fall,” said Nichols, who is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained skiing in February.

“So that’s why I take all the precautions that I can so that I bend, but not break.”

Nichols hopes to establish an ongoing relationship with ENABLED, which in its two years of existence has brought numerous exceptional athletes to Bristol to relate their stories.

“We’re here for the employees, we’re here to raise awareness of diversity of individuals with disabilities, ” said ENABLED’s Scott Pentoney, who is also ESPN’s Manager of Programming Compliance.

“And the third prong [for ENABLED] is for our company and our fans. How can coverage of disabled athletics and sport help grow ESPN? Is there a win-win situation? Can ESPN help those sports grow?”

On June 15, ENABLED is bringing members of Special Olympics Connecticut to campus to brainstorm ideas and display some of the athletes’ creations during ESPN’s Art Walk.

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