U.S. teams descend on D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Paralympic alpine skier Stephanie Jallen has decided not to retire.
Winning her first two Paralympic bronze medals at age 18 can have that kind of effect on you. Her Sochi hardware, one earned in the super-G and the other in the super-combined, gave the high school kid from Pennsylvania an indication that she had world-class talent.
"I think I found a new knack for something, so I'm going to keep going for as long as I can and see where it takes me," said Jallen, wearing a shiny purple gown at the massive gathering of some of the most toned people to attempt evening wear at the Best of U.S. award show at Warner Theatre.
After being born with CHILD syndrome, Jallen needed to have her left leg amputated, and her left arm and side are underdeveloped. She trained for nine years, made the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team and found success in Sochi. For those efforts, she won two Best of U.S. honors, Best Female Paralympian and Best Moment of the Paralympic Games.
"I was really happy to represent the United States and to come here and have a great closure," Jallen said. "It just ended a perfect year."
The Best of U.S. awards, which was based on fan voting, was part of a two-day celebration in the nation's capitol. On Thursday, the U.S. Olympic team was hosted at the White House, as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greeted a room full of athletes in high spirits during the afternoon.
"I hope all of you made yourself at home," Obama said. "We double-checked to make sure that all the bathroom locks were working in case Johnny Quinn tried to bust down one of these antique doors."
Quinn famously had to break out of his bathroom in Sochi. It wasn't long before Obama singled out the accomplishments American women made at the Games.
"American women won more medals in the Olympics than women of any other nation," he said. "Way to go, women!"
Before the formal speech, the Obamas met each athlete, chatted and posed for a photo. Although Jallen and others had said they wanted to get a selfie with the president, they had to hand over their phones beforehand. (It looks like David Ortiz really did ruin it for everyone earlier in the week when he said his "spontaneous" selfie during a visit with Obama was a marketing stunt.)
The past two days were also a reunion of sorts for the athletes. On Wednesday night, the U.S. snowboarders sat together and laughed when the night's first winner, Best Male Olympian Sage Kostenburg, admitted he didn't have a speech prepared because, "I didn't know this was an award ceremony until last night."
Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, who keeps her Olympic halfpipe gold medal with her most of the time, was alerted by a housesitting friend that her Salt Lake City apartment was rummaged through while she has been gone. Thankfully, it doesn't look like anything was taken.
"They said it looked like they were looking for something," Farrington said.
That gold medal means a lot. After Sochi, Farrington has spent time riding the kind of powder you need a helicopter to get to, going snow camping for a week with North Face and rode backcountry.
"Before the Olympics I was mainly focused on halfpipe and now I can kind of broaden my horizons with snowboarding," Farrington said, "and do things I've always wanted to but [couldn't because] I've been so focused on riding halfpipe and making the team."
But after Thursday, the Olympic celebration will quiet down, and these athletes will part for the second time to return to their other lives and school and further training.
"And four years from now, I won't be here to greet you, but some president is going to," Obama told them. "And I suspect that a lot of you may come back even four years after that."
One of those athletes could be Jallen, an alpine skier who was about to make a last run at Sochi before realizing it was really the start.
"You always hold on to that ounce of faith that something would come out of it and that she can reach that higher mountain," said Deb Gashi Jallen, Stephanie's mother. "Well she did, didn't she?!"