Taking the DIS out of disABILITY

A Will for the Gold

by Vance Feast

Sarah Will was paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in December of 1988. She was working as a carpenter in Aspen, Colorado and pursuing one of her lifelong passions, skiing the Colorado Rockies. Sarah was making first tracks in freshly fallen powder when her skis stuck and sent her out of control over a catwalk. It was a day that would change her life forever.

"When I asked the Ski Patrol if my ski boots were still on, I realized that this was not a question one asks if they have been skiing all their life. I knew I had a serious injury."

Since her first season pass in 1972 at the age of four, skiing had always been a big part of Sarah's life. When she was just nine years old, she became a member of the Pico Mountain Ski Team. By the time she was a freshman at Green Mountain College in 1984, she was the Most Valuable member of the Green Mountain College ski team ranked 20th in the nation. These experiences taught Sarah about sacrifice, setting goals, and striving to do her best. They also gave her a taste for the joys of sport. These lessons proved invaluable as Sarah faced the challenge of her life.

One year after her accident, Sarah was back on snow, taking her first run in a monoski. Sarah focused on the positives, and pondered what she could do, rather than what she could not do. She spent a week with the Winter Park Disabled Ski Program learning to monoski, and today at twenty-eight years is a member of the United States Disabled Ski Team. Sarah is a National Champion, a two-time Paralympic gold medalist and is the reigning women's world champion in disabled skiing.

Sarah wants recognition as a leader in her sport, not as a disabled person excelling in a disabled sport.

"It's not a disability, its and ability. You can go out and do anything you want to do, but you have to be the one that makes that decision. You can learn a lot from other people, but you just have to go out there and do it yourself."

"There is so much out there right now in adaptive equipment. You have to want it bad enough to go and research it and find places that have the adaptive water-ski, racing wheel chair and monoski. There are just tons of things out there that someone can do."

In 1992, Sarah became a member of the U.S. Winter Paralympic Team, and in Albertville, France, captured two Gold medals in the Downhill and Super G. Just two weeks earlier, Sarah had suffered a right-shoulder separation during a practice run, but she refused to let the injury affect her performance. At the Canadian National Championships, immediately following the Paralympics, Sarah finished with three gold medals. Her times beat all but one man in the monoski category. Sarah wants to become the fastest disabled skier outright, regardless of gender.

"I'm going to prove that the Iditerod isn't the only sport that can been dominated by a woman."

Courage. Drive. Commitment. Sarah Will has used her sport to propel her life forward. Full of determination and a youthful exuberance, Sarah has overcome her physical handicap by refusing to accept any limitations. The reigning world champion in her sport, Sarah has set her sights for the Gold at the 1994 Paralympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Sarah's strength of spirit, motivates and inspires all those you have come to know her. Attitude and the power of will continue to push Sarah forward, and now sets her goals on a career of teaching the sport she so much loves. With her teammate, Chris Waddell, Sarah has produced the first Monoski Instructional Video that will be used to educate students that attend their Monoski Training Camps across the U.S. in 1996.

"We hope to establish camps at Vail, Breckenridge, Winter Park, Pico, Sugarbush, Alpine Meadows, and Mammoth. This year, our first training camp is at Vail, and is designed to inspire, educate and train the next generation of Olympic handicap skiers. We believe in teaching our students everything that gives them the independence to do things for themselves."

"Obstacles are out there for everyone. So much comes from within, and you need that power of will to conquer your fears."

Sarah works out by pushing her road racer at least 12 miles a day and lifts weights. She water-skis when she can get a tow and competes in 10K road races across the U.S. In the evenings she reviews her video library, searching to find incorrect body positioning and flaws in equipment performance, hoping to improve her racing techniques.

"If I just knew a techno-head, engineer type, that would just sit down and design a new monoski for me. That would eliminate the technical barrier I am struggling against. I want my ski to work as if it were on an able bodied racer. My ski weighs 50 pounds. I weigh 95 pounds. My limitation is my strength to over come the momentum of my monoski and to control it at high speeds. Just think about it, I'm traveling at nearly 60 miles per hour. The smallest bump can make you airborne. The compression and rebound of my monoski, when I leave the ground, is really scary. I can see it in slow motion on the TV and this is a barrier that I will overcome only with financial and technical support.

"Precision, especially at high speeds, is the focus of my mental training. Preparation is the key. My racing line, the fall-line of the course, my upper body positioning, the confidence I feel, down to the tune on my race ski, all play a part in winning or losing. Precision takes home the Gold!"

Working as a graphic artist and creative director of several video productions, Sarah builds her economics to race with the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. She is continually in search for Sponsors to help her achieve her goals.

A disabled athlete is the most visible person on the mountain. Sarah Will skis in a monoski, and is the object of people's curiosity. Her ability to ski the mountain draws increased attention, and she continually faces questions from interested admirers. This is a daily occurrence during Sarah's winter training, which runs five to six days a week from the first week in November until the middle of April.

"All of the athletes on the Disabled Team are responsible to fund their own training, travel, equipment, and living expenses. Most of the U.S. Ski Team funding finds it's way to the Alpine Team, which requires us to seek support from the private sector. These sponsors are just beginning to recognize the accomplishments and importance of the U.S. Disabled athletes."

Sarah competes internationally in Slalom, Super G, Giant Slalom, and Downhill events. She has gone down-under to Australia and New Zealand to train in the summer, and has traveled to France and Norway to prepare and compete in the Olympics. Although her training is very important to her, Sarah looks for opportunities to share her experiences with others. She takes the time to give motivational speeches to schools, rehabilitation hospitals and corporations. Sarah has spoken with patients about her own experiences, and has expressed to audiences the challenges she and others face as disabled people. At every opportunity, Sarah emphasizes how sports have played an important part in shaping her life. She sees herself as a role model for disabled people, and wants to share with them the joy she has found in her sport.

When the first snow falls, Sarah hits the slopes at Vail. She trains hard, physically, mentally, and technically to prepare for the 1994 Paralympic Games. On-snow training camps for the U.S. Disabled team begin in November at Keystone and Park City.

"To beat European, Marit Ruth, I feel I have to compete successfully against the men on the U.S. Disabled team. Teammate Shannon Bloedel and> newcomer, Kelly Fox, keep me checking my rear view mirror."

Sarah Will has overcome her physical handicap by refusing to accept her limitations. The reigning world champion in her sport, she can not get enough of the speed, excitement and exhilaration of her sport. She has worked very hard to achieve her present level of success and she knows that nothing is out of her reach.

Sarah has a positive message to offer disabled people, and able bodied people as well. Her drive and determination to conquer life's challenges serves as a reminder that people should strive to get the most out of life.

"Use the resources that are available to you. Utilize your physical strength and mental will power to conquer your limitations. Never under estimate what your mind and body can do."


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