Disabled skiers will arrive with different tales, same goal

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The stories behind the top three female members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team vary as much as the snowflakes that provide the slippery surface on which athletes race.

Allison Jones is an engineering student at the University of Denver who takes pride in proving there's nothing she can't do.

Born without a right femur, Jones has learned to do more on one ski and two outriggers than most able-bodied athletes can do with two legs.

She enjoys listening to all kinds of music including the classical notes of Mozart and the rocking melodies of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

When she is in Europe, she rooms with her good friend Laurie Stephens, a sit-skier, who has set records for disabled swimming and enjoys pasta and punk rock when she is not concentrating on her studies at the University of New Hampshire, where she is majoring in therapeutic recreation.

Lacey Heward, a communications and journalism major at Utah Valley State in Orem, enjoys listening to the soulful sounds of Ella Fritzgerald, playing the guitar and writing folk music when she isn't carving turns around slalom gates on her mono-ski.

But despite all their differences, they all share one basic thing in common -- a love for ski racing.

Jones, Stephens and Heward will join Sandy Dukat, the only member of the "B" team, and Hannah Pennington and Elitsa Storey, on the "C" team, for the disabled World Cup next week.

The love for racing will drive the skiers' performances when they come to Steamboat Springs for the first disabled World Cup event to take place in the United States since 2001.

This year, 15 nations, including Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Slovakia and the United States, will come to Steamboat for two slalom and two giant slalom races.

Kevin Jardine, the coach of the U.S. disabled team, said all 17 members of the U.S. team and eight development skiers are excited about the Steamboat events, which will take place from Jan. 10 to 14. They are looking forward to picking up where they left off last season.

In 2004, at the Alpine World Championships in Wildschoenau, Austria, the American skiers claimed 24 medals, including nine gold.

The U.S. Ski Team's 25 World Cup wins helped the team win the Nations Cup and end the season with athletes earning seven World Cup titles.

This year, the skiers, coaches and supporters of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team are out to prove once again that they are the best in the world.

Proving herself is something the 20-year-old Jones has taken pride in doing her entire life.

Despite being born with a disability, Jones said the only thing she hasn't been able to do has been to join the military. And if you want to motivate her, the best way to get her going is to try to tell her she can't do something.

She still remembers the Christmas when her mother gave inline skates to her sister, but not to her.

"She told me she didn't want me to be disappointed," Jones recalled.

She wasn't.

After explaining how she felt, her mother bought Jones the inline skates. It didn't take long for Jones, who was 10 years old at the time, to master the skates and prove her mother wrong.

"Two legs or not, I'm going to give it all I've got at whatever I do," Jones said.

During her five years as a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, there isn't much that Jones hasn't accomplished on the slopes.

She won silver medals in the super-G and giant slalom at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City. She was fifth in the downhill and slalom.

Last year, she was even more impressive at the 2004 World Championships, where she took gold in the downhill, giant slalom and slalom events. She was the silver medalist in the super-G in her class at the championships.

She has two World Cup wins to her credit and 20 top fives during her career.

"I don't like thinking that we have disabilities," Jones said. "We are just made differently. I wake up in the morning and go out and do what I do every day."

Her good friend Stephens is only in her second year with the team, but she has been on the World Cup podium 13 times. She won all six World Cup giant slalom races in 2004 and won eight different events, which helped her take the overall World Cup title.

"I felt like I had something to prove to people," Stephens said. "I just love skiing, and all the wins just kind of happened."

Born with spinal bifida, Stephens has spent her entire life in a wheelchair. But she hasn't let it stop her from pursuing athletics.

She stared skiing at age 12 when she visited Loon Mountain in New Hampshire with a disabled group. She turned to competitive skiing at age 15 when she joined Chris Devlin-Young's New England Disabled Ski Team.

She was a member of the C team in 2003 and was moved to the regular World Cup schedule in 2004 based on coaches' discretion.

She was happy to make the A team but came into 2004 knowing she had to prove herself.

She did it by racing to the top of the podium in almost every race.

Heward earned two bronze medals at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City. She collected gold medals in the downhill, giant slalom and slalom events at the 2004 World Championships and has been on the World Cup podium 18 times in the past four years.

She was paralyzed below the waist at 16 months old when a 100-pound barbell fell on her, pinching her spine.

She started skiing at 15 in the Boise, Idaho, area's recreation Unlimited program. Heward entered the National Ability center's program in Park City, Utah, in 1999 to learn about mono-ski racing. By the end of her second season of top-level racing, she won the slalom at the 2001 World Cup Finals.

The disabled World Cup will begin in Steamboat with a giant slalom race Jan. 10 and Jan. 11. The slaloms will take place Jan. 12 and 13 at Howelsen Hill. All the races are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

Skiers will compete in three categories. There will be 13 visually impaired skiers, 60 standing skiers and 37 sit-skiers.

In many classes, the disability is graded by severity. According to disability, athletes receive a percentage factor, which is designed to equalize differences between categories.

--To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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