Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Injuries can’t keep Paralympian Alana Nichols from competing in Sochi

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By Joe Paisley Updated: March 6, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Alana Nichols is intelligent.

A few minutes talking to her makes that clear. But it also becomes evident she doesn't understand the meaning of quit.

If she did, she probably wouldn't be in her fourth Paralympics trying to match her four skiing medals from Vancouver.

Three torn shoulder ligaments and surgery last summer did not stop her from qualifying for Sochi after winning national titles in the downhill, super-G and super combined less than two months ago.

Which begs the question, did the doctor who told Nichols that the medal favorite could not compete in Sochi know her at all?

"I am pretty sure he was leaning a little bit on the conservative side to not get my hopes up," said Nichols, 30, of Wheat Ridge. "Little did he know that kind of fuels my fire."

She spent the next several months at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to keep the rest of her body, which is paralyzed from the waist down, ready for competition.

"There was moments when it was devastating and frustrating working with one arm and a significant injury, especially for someone with only two working limbs in the first place," she said. "One of the things I had to learn was patience because the last thing I wanted to do was re-injure it. I took some time discovering my new limitations."

Patience is good but it is her drive to take on any challenge that led a to snowboarding wreck - her first attempt at a back flip - near Durango that broke her spine in 2002. Ten years later, she became the first American woman to win gold medals in the summer and winter Paralympics.

She won as a member of the U.S. wheelchair basketball team at her 2008 summer debut. One month after Beijing, she moved from Alabama, where she earned a master's degree in kinesiology, to Colorado to train for Alpine skiing.

She enjoyed success almost right away. Her first win was in February 2009 when she beat Paralympic gold medalist Laurie Stephens to place first in the super-G.

She completed her first full season in 2010, where she was the overall champ in downhill and giant slalom. She advanced to Vancouver where she medaled in all four events in her winter debut. In 2012, she returned to basketball to play for the fourth-place team in London.

This January, Nichols won gold in the downhill and giant slalom, a silver in the super-G, and a bronze in the super combined. As a result, she is confident as the events begin Saturday.

"That was great motivation and momentum for Sochi," she said. "I feel almost 100 percent, maybe 95 percent with some pain and not all the strength. I couldn't be more excited."

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