Thrilled to be back racing

Courtesy of Alana Nichols

With two silver medals at the Panorama World Cup, Alana Nichols has secured a spot to compete in the Sochi Paralympics.

Coming back from an injury requires a lot of faith and trust. It’s hard to be able to believe that your body will be able to handle all the forces of downhill skiing again, and will be able to withstand a fall if it happens.

So… I’m very happy to say that I’m back!

Last week I was in Panorama, British Columbia, for my first World Cup races since injuring my shoulder in June. The first downhill training run I did in Panorama was pretty rough on my shoulder -- I just couldn’t keep it in the position I wanted to with all the wind resistance and the g-forces we pull on some of the turns.

But the next day during our second downhill training run I felt stronger, and every day I got out there I made progress and improvements. These were my first speed races, which is kind of a big deal when you’re coming back from an injury since they’re more risky. Downhill and super-G are my favorite disciplines, because usually I feel at home at high speeds and I’m "comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Courtesy of Alana Nichols

The 2014 Paralympic Games will be Alana Nichols' second winter Paralympics. She also won a gold with the U.S. team in wheelchair basketball at the 2008 summer Paralympics.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with how well I skied. I came away with two silver medals, in downhill and super-G, and a bronze in super combined. For me, though, it was just important to take that next step of getting back into racing. I didn’t have huge expectations, but I outdid the ones I had.

Now I’m in Copper, Colo., for more racing. My first race in the Copper series, the giant slalom, wasn’t my best. It’s usually my weakest event, but I was in third after the first run, only two hundredths of a second back in a super-tight race. I made some big mistakes on the second run, though, and got bumped into fourth, which was obviously a disappointing day for me.

I haven’t had the opportunity to train as much as some of my competition because of the injury, and a lot of ski racing is tempo and tactics. It takes time to get back in the groove, especially of slalom and giant slalom. I have to be turning a lot sooner than I think, and I’m still getting back into that flow.

I always try to remind myself that you win some, you learn some. I’m absolutely playing catch-up, especially in slalom. I have some competition that has really kind of figured out the slalom, and they’re skiing fast, so I have a lot of ground to make up. But I’m just going to stay positive and keep making progress.

I’m not a contender for the overall World Cup points this season since I missed the first races in Australia and New Zealand, so at this point, racing is all about prepping for the Paralympics.

When I podiumed at Panorama, that sealed the deal for my qualification for Sochi and now it’s all fine-tuning, really trying to pick up the little tricks of racing.

Every night I write something in my journal that I learned about each particular race. Those are the things I’ll gather and take with me to Sochi to remind me of the work I’ve done. I want to make sure I’m not overlooking anything and I feel prepared.

Instagram/Alana Nichols

Alana Nichols loves the speed of ski racing, and says, "I'm comfortable with being uncomfortable."

The opening ceremonies for the Paralympic Games are March 7. It’s the second-largest sporting event in the world after the Olympics, and every time, the organizers really go all out. Two weeks after the Olympic Games have their closing ceremonies, Russia will take down the Olympic signage and put up Paralympic signs. I like to call the Paralympics the after party for the Olympics. It’s awesome, because they work out all the kinks during the Olympic Games, and the Paralympics run really smoothly as a result!

But even with all of the work preparing for the Paralympics, I’ll have some fun, too. Did I mention I get to be on the Conan O’Brian show on Tuesday night? I’m a little nervous, but I’ve been watching a lot of Conan, and he’s so witty and awesome that it will be a ton of fun regardless. I love humor about my disability, so hopefully I can work that in -- it’s one thing that helps people understand that people with disabilities are just like everyone else. I think it’s going to be a blast.

From there I fly straight to Tignes, France, for another World Cup at the end of the month. This is the whirlwind of a Paralympic year! There’s a lot going on, and it’s exciting, but it’s one of those things where you really have to control your emotions so you peak at the right time and make sure you’re focusing on the things that matter. It’s all about discipline.

Before I know it, I’ll be in Sochi!

Alana's previous blog