Nichols: It’s difficult to forget a crash like mine

After falling at the World Championships, World Cup finals and in training recently, Alana Nichols is dusting herself off and leaving behind her wheelchair basketball training for the moment to focus on Sochi 2014. 26 Jun 2013
A picture of a woman skiing on the slopes

Alana Nichols

ⒸMarcus Harmann
By Jake Duhaime

"Initially that crash was absolutely devastating and disappointing to prepare like that and not be able to reach your goals"

It used to be a seasonal balancing act for Alana Nichols.

Ski when there was snow to ski on. Hoop it up on the basketball court when there wasn’t. Travel to the Paralympic Games every other year.

Not this time around.

With Sochi just nine months away, the first American woman to win gold medals in the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games has decided to give up her double life. When it comes to picking a sport and sticking with it, the slopes will be Nichols best friend until the summer of 2014, meaning basketball can wait.

"I've learned that over the last year and a half, or two years that doing both at the same time is doable, but not preferable in terms of reaching my goals," Nichols said. "I've decided to put all of my focus on skiing with Sochi right around the corner."

That is if the resident of the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado can stay on the snow, something that’s been difficult of late. If she needed any additional motivation headed into an all-important Paralympic season, Nichols has it in a recent string of spills, not only ending her 2012-13 season in disappointing fashion, but disrupting her summer training plans.

Nichols saw her 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships end prematurely when during a downhill training run, she came through a three-gate corridor with too much speed, caught an edge and tumbled out of control like a car wreck. While her injuries weren’t considered serious, they were enough to knock the mono skier out of the event, ending all hopes of defending a pair of titles from the previous season.

"Initially that crash was absolutely devastating and disappointing to prepare like that and not be able to reach your goals," Nichols said of the crash. "But looking back, I really was more thankful that I didn't get injured worse. Those are the kind of things that fueled me for the rest of the season and will continue to do so into Sochi."

She returned to the snow a few weeks later for the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals, ironically on the same course she hopes to compete in next March.

And then it happened ... again.

Twice Nichols failed to finish training runs in the downhill. Though this time, she managed to get up, plow through pain and captured a bronze medal on race day. The accomplishment was as much mental as it was physical.

Because these things usually happen in threes, Nichols first day of summer training in Mount Hood, Oregon earlier this month was also her last. Yet another collision led to a dislocated shoulder, a broken ankle on one leg and a sprained ankle on the other.

Her sense of humour is still very much in tact.

“Well at least I’m paralysed and can’t feel my broken and sprained ankles,” she posted on Instagram from her hospital bed.

This was followed up by a photo of the “ginormous boulder” which led to her injuries accompanied by the tag line #rocksarehard.

After a short hospital stay, Nichols returned home to rehab. It’s only a matter of time before she gets back on a ski and gives it another go, bumps and bruises notwithstanding.

“It's difficult to forget when you wreck as large as I have," Nichols said. "One of the things I've done is to perform the same tasks that I was trying to do when I wrecked, just to prove myself that I can execute the task at hand and build my confidence.”

That confidence has created some lofty goals for Nichols heading into Sochi. The 30-year-old doesn’t just want to repeat in the two events which she won gold in 2010. She wants to go five-for-five, sweeping the podium in Krasnaya Polyana. Though she’ll freely admit that winning four gold medals, as opposed to five, is a more realistic possibility.

"My weakest event is the slalom," Nichols said. "The improvement I'm able to make in that event will go a long way to determining if that goal is a remote possibility. But I like to go big and set my goals pretty high."

Some 12 months ago, those goals were centered on the basketball court. This summer, Nichols and her battered, bruised body would simply like to get some training in before the World Cup season.

“When I think about ski racing and I'm not on the snow, it makes me really anxious," Nichols said. "When I do get there, I feel in control. I get really pumped and confident. That's how I see myself nine months from now in Sochi. I'm really pumped about the downhill and the venue as a whole."