Father-daughter duo proves ‘no’ is not the final answer

Ally Kunkel returns to USA Para alpine skiing national team for the upcoming World Cup season after big effort as independent athlete 04 Oct 2019
A female Para alpine skier competing on the snow
USA's Ally Kunkel, here competing at the PyeongChang 2018, returns to the national team for the 2019/2020 World Cup season
ⒸSimon Bruty for OIS/IOC
By Lena Smirnova | For World Para Alpine Skiing

Para alpine skier Ally Kunkel knows firsthand that not taking ‘no’ for an answer is easier said than done.

Taken off the United States national team after the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, the teenager spent last season proving why she deserves to train alongside the nation’s best.

After a slew of gritty races and a silver medal at the World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup, Kunkel has been welcomed back on the team and will be skiing in national colours once again in the upcoming season.

“It was slightly disappointing, I’m not going to lie, but I think it was what needed to happen and I’m really thankful I got the opportunity to step back a little bit and focus on fundamen-tals,” Kunkel said.

Do it better

Kunkel was 16 when she qualified to her first Winter Paralympics. In PyeongChang, she finished seventh and eighth in the women’s standing super-G and giant slalom, respectively.

Once she heard she was off the national team, Kunkel set to work on becoming a better skier. As a first step, she moved from Colorado to Park City, Utah to train with the National Ability Center. 

There she skied up to five hours every day, in addition to strength work at the gym.

Exam day

All that training was put to the test at the World Cup in La Molina, Spain in March, where Kunkel competed as an independent athlete.

The solo mission would have been impossible if not for the commitment of her father, who accompanied Kunkel on the trip.

“I’m trying to be everything - coach, dad, equipment tuner. It’s just a balance of everything,” said Larry Kunkel. 

“It’s not a cheap thing. We try to do it as inexpensively as possible, but it’s a considerable cost. But she’s dedicated to doing it and we’re going to support her in any way we can,” added Kunkel.

The investment to travel more than 8,000km to the Spanish ski resort paid off as Kunkel blazed to a silver finish in the competition’s second giant slalom race. 

She was the only athlete from USA to reach the podium in La Molina with the exception of Thomas Walsh, who took a bronze in the men’s standing giant slalom. 

“It didn’t even hit me until I was taking my boots off in the van and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I was on the podium! Wow!’,” Kunkel said. 

“I’ve collected a few medals over the years through my able-bodied racing and Para racing but this one is definitely going to be really special for me. It’s my first World Cup podium ever.”

Turning heads

Kunkel’s milestone medal did not go unnoticed by Team USA’s staff. Her former teammates cheered her on while the coaches offered encouraging words.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re sitting right now, if you’re on the podium or you’re not, it’s all about if you’re improving with each and every single run,” Kunkel recalled their advice. “That’s what I’ve just been trying to do and focus less on results.”

While her medal inspired cheers in the USA camp, one person was noticeably composed - her father. As throughout all of competition, Larry Kunkel remained on the sidelines, never shouting or giving loud advice. 

“I get a little embarrassed,” Kunkel said with a laugh. “Every teenager is embarrassed of their parents a little bit so I make him stay a little bit more low key, but he’s basically doing everything for me. He’s my tech, my sports psych, my coach, everything.”

Now that his daughter is back on the national team, Larry Kunkel is anticipating an even stronger performance in the 2019/20 season.

“I hope she can take away some confidence that she can perform at a high level even as an independent,” he said.

“Hopefully with the support of the national team she can do even more because they’re going to have more resources than we’re going to have on our own.”

Kunkel will join another seven skiers in the national team announced on Thursday, including PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist Andrew Kurka

The full list can be found on the US Paralympics Alpine Skiing page.