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Girl’s Got Game

"I'm not living up to anyone's standards or goals," says Allison Jones. "I am me and no one else." Photo: Michael Richmond

Allison Jones was born a contender.

She’s a one-legged dynamo — assertive, driven, strong, and equally successful on a ski or a bike. Her competitive streak runs deeper than most, and she’s not afraid to say it. But, she doesn’t have to. Her three world championships and Paralympics gold medal speak for themselves.

If that’s not enough, Jones, a DU engineering major, now has the 2007 National Cycling Championships and the 2008 summer Paralympics in her sights.

Her life is about staying ahead of the pack on all fronts. “I am not living up to anyone’s standards or goals … I don’t walk to one beat,” Jones proclaims.

“I am me and no one else.”

Just like everyone else

Jones started life on a slightly different playing field than most. She was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, a malformation of her right leg that left her without a femur. Her foot was amputated when she was just 9 months old.

“My mom likes to say it’s the only reason she could keep up with me as a child,” Jones says. “It’s been my life.”

Jones received her first prosthetic just before her first birthday, and she quickly learned to do everything a two-legged person could do. She spent her childhood in Colorado Springs, Colo., climbing trees and playing hockey and football with the neighborhood boys. She’d lead you to believe that she’d play nice all day long, but a hint of mischief in her voice gives her away — Jones was a handful and she knows it.

According to her mom, Jones was persistent, and she had a temper.

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“She was always angry if she wasn’t included in something,” says her mother, Diane. “She was very strong-willed, and she had to win at everything.”

By the age of 3, Jones was already dreaming big. One day while driving past the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, her mother remembers a proclamation coming from the backseat: “I’m gonna live there one day.”

“And she made that dream come true,” Diane adds.

In case it isn’t clear, let it be known that Jones wasn’t known for her patience. If she wanted in on the action, she found a way.

Take the time she wanted the in-line skates her sister got for Christmas. “By the end of Christmas day, she was rollerblading up and down the block in her sister’s pair,” says Diane. She got her own the next day.

Jones took to the slopes at 5, and by the time she was 8, she was racing with the Winter Park disabled ski team and was the youngest to race at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Nationals.

Still, there were times that Jones’ confidence was rocked.

“Kids don’t know how to hold a word back, but it was part of learning how to deal with people,” she reflects. “My mom would say, ‘They’re jerks and you’re stronger. And you’re doing everything they are with one leg.'”

And that’s when Jones’ competitive edge really kicked in — when she began looking for someone to beat in the next race.

“It has everything to do with how my mother raised me,” Jones says. “There was no self-pity, no ‘poor baby’ outlook on life.”

While her skin thickened, Jones’ athletic talent kept developing. Her father moved to Granby, Colo., so she could ski more during the school year.

When the winter sports season faded away and she had returned to the Springs, Jones focused on another passion — cycling. When Jones was 16, she and her father began traipsing around the country for cycling competitions. And just like in skiing, she’s managed to secure a place in the international competitive cycling scene.

Always looking for the next opportunity

In the midst of building a career as a professional skier and cyclist, Jones has attended to an academic career as well. A childhood fascination with Legos and Erector Sets put Jones on the trail to study mechanical engineering, a major she says is superior to all others.

After taking the two previous winter quarters off to ski, the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship recipient is now focusing on finishing her fifth and final year at DU.

“School takes precedence,” she says, noting that the scholarship provides full tuition and the opportunity to train with DU’s ski team, which has helped her both athletically and academically. But this year, Jones has nixed skiing from her winter regimen, marking the first time in 14 years that she won’t be competing in any winter games.

Instead, it’s all about school, which, Jones says, will give her the background she’ll need once her body gives out and she’s unable to compete.

“I took some classes that got me motivated to design my own prosthetics, sports prosthetics. I see that there’s a need for better devices,” says Jones, who’s tested a lot of prosthetic prototypes and knows the difficulty of them standing the test of time, let alone enduring high levels of activity.

“I can facilitate that need,” Jones says with certainty. “I’d like to start my own business.”

Despite academic commitments — including serving as treasurer of the Society of Women Engineers DU chapter, mentoring engineering underclassmen and acting as team leader in her bioengineering systems design course (the group is designing a system to help patients get in and out of bed) — Jones still finds time to slip in two to three hours of cycling a day.

Jones readily ticks off her accomplishments, like the fact that she’s skied in 10 countries and cycled in five, or that she purchased her first home this year at age 22. But, it takes some prodding to get her to talk about her numerous victories in any depth. Maybe it’s because the titles themselves speak volumes. Maybe it’s because she feels she doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone.

Still, there’s one person who constantly demands that Jones prove her mettle. Even when there’s no one left to beat in the slalom or in the velodrome, Jones knows where she can find her fiercest competitor. She sees her in the mirror every day.

Jones gestures wildly as she recounts her recent experience at the IPC Cycling World Championships in Switzerland. After spending the summer perfecting her starts and “learning to make the bike more natural” on the track, Jones took home a bronze in a road time trial and marked a new personal best in the velodrome 3km pursuit.

See, this wasn’t about walking away in first place. She just had to beat herself, and it just so happens that she medaled in the process.

Fueled by so much competitive fire, Jones finds it hard to relax. “I get stressed out when I start to suck, so I have to back up and let the stupid things roll off my back. There’s always one more thing I have to do … and I can’t get there if I’m not having fun — no matter what.”

It’s this attitude that adds to Jones’ competitive edge and helped her reach what she describes as the pinnacle of her career: Paralympics gold.

In March, Jones arrived in Torino, Italy, for the 2006 Paralympics — with the flu. Despite her congested nose and worn-out body, she competed in a few races, placing fourth, fifth and seventh.

So as she approached the final event – slalom — Jones told herself that it wasn’t about winning a medal; it was about surviving another race, doing the best she could do under the circumstances.

After the first run, she was in third place with a half-second between her and first. Then it was time to inspect the second course, which was a dream. Within a few quick seconds, she knew she’d own the course.

As she barreled down the mountain, slapping flags that became nothing but a blur out of the corner of her eye, Jones focused on the finish line.

“I put everything on the line,” she reflects. “It was my best run all year.”

Jones was 3.5 seconds ahead with two skiers left to go. Both felt short of her time, and Jones took home the gold.

“You can’t ask for much more than that,” she says. “That kicks ass!”

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