She's Back; Alana Nichols Returns to Ski Racing!

November 17, 2017

She's Back; Alana Nichols Returns to Ski Racing!

Born and raised in Farmington, NM, Alana Nichols is no stranger to competitive sports. While growing up in northern New Mexico Alana split her time between softball, volleyball, basketball and snowboarding. During a snowboarding trip to the CO backcountry when she was 17, Alana had the opportunity to send a backflip; something she prepared for all summer. It was late in the day and early in the season, but not being one to back down from a challenge Alana hit the jump and over-rotated onto her back. Unbeknownst to her there were rocks lying just beneath the snow’s surface. She was instantly paralyzed.

The overnight transition from being a full-time athlete to being wheelchair bound plunged Alana into uncharted territory. It wasn’t until Alana discovered wheelchair basketball at the University of New Mexico two years later that she realized she could still ball out and fuel her love for competition through adaptive sports.

Now a Paralympic Gold Medalist in both the Summer & Winter Games, Alana is a force to be reckoned with on multiple playing fields, and a leading advocate of adaptive sports progression.

Photo By: Sydney Prather

In August you announced your plan to race in the Pyeongchang Games with little more than half a year to prepare. How do you approach training to ski at the Paralympics in such a short time frame?

"Yes, I announced my comeback very late because it was a very personal decision for me to make. I have a few short months before the games and a great team of coaches and athletic trainers to help me accomplish this goal! I actually really love and thrive under pressure so I’m excited about it all!"

You’ve won gold at the summer and winter games, do you favor one over the other? Why?

"I have had the great fortune of competing in 5 Paralympic Games 2 winter, 3 summer (so far) and would have to say, I prefer the summer games! The summer Paralympics are so much bigger than the winter games because of the number of sports offered. It’s absolutely grandiose with almost 4,500 athletes, its mind blowing!"

Do you have one Paralympic memory that stands out above the rest?

"Oh gosh, I have had some awesome Paralympic memories... my favorite is probably after winning my first gold in Vancouver in 2010. With that medal I became the first female to win gold in the summer and winter games and it was a huge accomplishment for me after a very hard life experience going into it. I love thinking about seeing my whole team standing out in the rain getting soaked at the medal ceremony, singing out the national anthem, and being so happy for me. Was incredibly special."

Alana had an incredibly successful Vancouver Winter Games showing in 2010. She brought home four medals including golds in both the downhill and giant slalom.

What motivates you to keep trying different sporting events and striving for success at the highest level in each?

"I am motivated to excel at new sports at the highest level by the process or 'the reach'. It’s not as much for me about mastering the skill but learning it. If I don’t know how to perform a task or I’m not coordinated enough to successfully complete a goal, I’m intrigued! I love the process of learning; trying something, analyzing to skill, adjusting and trying again. Right now surfing has most of my attention because I am always studying the ocean and it’s always changing!"

If you had to choose a liquid medium to play in for the rest of your life would you choose frozen or thawed?

"I can’t choose between frozen or thawed because they are both so fun to play on. I will say however that the thawed version of water is much softer to land on :) "

If you could hop on a plane tomorrow where would you go and what would you do?

"If I could hop on a plane right now, I would go to Norway! And when I get there I want to accomplish the “Extreme S day” (needs a new name) Sky Dive-> Ski-> Surf->Scuba! I’ve always dreamt of seeing Norway because my heritage is mostly Norwegian. I also have seen some the most amazing pictures of the fjords."

Adaptive surfing is starting to catch on and will likely become the next big platform for adaptive competition. Alana is at the forefront of the surfing movement, and recently took home 1st place at the US Open Adaptive Surfing Championship held just north of San Diego.

What are you looking forward to the most about Pyeongchang?

"I am really looking forward to the downhill ski race in Pyeongchang! There are three jumps in the race and it looks really fun from what I’ve seen on video."

While waiting in the blocks on race day before dropping into a ski event, how do you calm your nerves?

"How do I calm my nerves before a ski race? One word... BREATHE.  As an athlete, harnessing your emotional response by breathing is absolutely essential. I have gotten pretty good at slowing my heart rate down just before a race in order to focus."

What’s your favorite pump up track?

"I don’t have a pump up track before I race because I don’t listen to music when I ski. I feel like it’s distracting for me when I need to be more focused than ever!"

Could you see yourself coaching after your days of competing come to a close?

"I have been coaching Paralympic hopefuls and kids and young adults with disabilities since 2006 at various sports camps for skiing, basketball, surfing... etc. I absolutely plan to continue coaching when I retire! It’s all about the giveback."

Will you be feasting on McDonalds during the 2018 Games, if so, what is your go to menu item?

"Lastly, I don’t prefer McDonald’s on a regular basis so I probably won’t (and haven’t) eat it at the games but I do love the McCafé! They have pretty great espresso :) "

Written by Scott Will

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