Closely following the Winter Olympics, the 2014 Paralympic Games begin Friday, also in Sochi, Russia, and just like at the Olympics, the University of Denver will be well represented.
Two alpine skiers, alumna Allison Jones (BSME ’07) and current student Jamie Stanton, are among the 80-person American team that comprises the largest delegation at the Paralympics. Kurt Smitz, former alpine coach and director of skiing operations at DU, also will be on hand assisting Team Iceland.
“It really is an honor to represent the University of Denver and Team USA in Sochi,” Stanton says. “The last few years have been a lot of training and a lot of hard work, but it’s finally paid off. I’m excited to get there and see what I’m able to do with my skiing. When I’m at the top, in the starting gate, I can take a moment to myself and say, ‘OK, I made it. I was meant to be here, and now let’s go do what I was meant to do.’”
Stanton, a sophomore studying finance, was a right leg amputee at just 6 months old and is one of the United States’ strongest hopefuls as arguably its best standing adaptive ski racer. He is the sixth recipient of DU’s Willy Schaeffler Scholarship, which provides a full ride for five years to a disabled athlete. The funds allow him to attend school during the fall and spring quarters and take the winter off to train and compete.
“It was a huge opportunity,” he says. “I had no idea how I was going to be able to do skiing and do school at the same time, and when the scholarship came along, it was the perfect fit for me.”
Jones, a seven-time medalist and seven-time Paralympian, is one of Team USA’s veterans, having been a member of each team since 2002, skiing in the winter and competing in cycling at the summer event. She was born without a right femur and was the fourth recipient of the Schaeffler Scholarship.
“She’s been a great mentor,” Stanton says. “She’s been so helpful with everything from the little things when we’re on the road to big things she’s noticed in my skiing that help me perform at the next level. She’s always like, ‘Do your school stuff first, and then, once you’ve got that sorted out, come ski.’ I think that’s some of the biggest advice she’s given me. School has always been incredibly important to me, but so is my skiing. I take them both very seriously; I know she did as well.”
Stanton says that although he already knows many of the skiers, what he’s most looking forward to in Sochi is getting to meet the other American Paralympians.
“I don’t know them personally,” he says, “and it would be cool to just sit down, have lunch or dinner with them, and get a better feel for who they are. I’m sure they have the same outlook on life as all of us skiers.
“I feel as if a lot of the members on the ski team, we have the same attitude: We don’t consider ourselves disabled. The stuff that we do and the places that we go and the things that we do in those places with our skiing, it’s right up there with the able-bodied World Cup guys and all that. I think it’s a blessing that we’re able to do what we do, and how we do it is absolutely phenomenal.”