Are you stoked for PyeongChang 2018? In addition to the delegation of athletes competing in the Olympic Games, Park City is also a major basecamp for Paralympic hopefuls training with the National Ability Center. Until the announcements are made on February 20, we don't know who will make the cut for Team USA, but here are two adaptive athletes we've got our money on.
Snowboarding, age 20
Growing up skateboarding in St. Louis, Missouri, Noah Elliott dreamt of becoming a pro. That all ended when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer, at the age of 16. While undergoing chemotherapy, Elliott attended a camp where an encounter with an adaptive athlete sparked the idea that he might be able to pursue a sport after all. Although he beat the cancer, the following year Elliott opted for having his left leg amputated above the knee after his body rejected the metal in the knee replacement doctors had installed.
"When I couldn't skateboard anymore, I felt like I had lost a part of myself," said Elliott. "I started looking for a solution to getting my lifestyle back." That solution turned out to be snowboarding. Having never stepped on a snowboard in his life, Elliott began fundraising to make the move out to Park City and pursue the sport in earnest. Between public speaking fees (something he'd picked up during his illness), washing dishes at a bar, and a GoFundMe campaign, Elliott managed to scrape together the funds in a year's time. That, with the help of an NAC scholarship, allowed him to make the move to Park City and begin training.
If you've ever tried snowboarding, you know it's no small task. Elliott's biggest complication wasn't finding balance or edging though, it was figuring out how to get the hydraulics on his prosthetic leg working correctly. Even so, by his third day on snow, he was cruising all over the mountain, eager to race. With less than a season of training, he competed for the first time last March at Colorado's Copper Mountain, where he took 4th place. A few months later, he travelled to New Zealand for his first World Cup event, and returned home with two gold medals as a souvenir. Right now, he's 100 percent focused on training, checking off a personal list of all the requirements he has to meet. "I feel super stoked an fortunate to be able to do this," said Elliot. "If I go to the games, my goal is to have fun, learn what I can, make new memories, and maybe bring home some hardware."
Although his training regime doesn't leave much free time, Elliot is fully immersed at the NAC doing everything from helping with social media to giving rock climbing lessons (another skill he's picked up since moving to Park City). For him, the best part of working there is knowing "the impact it can have on someone and being able to see that change in a person when they can do something they love--it really is priceless."
Alpine Skiing, age 24
Anna Beninati's story is a pretty unique one in the world of adaptive sport. She wasn't born with her legs gone and didn't lose them to an illness. While attending university in Colorado in September of 2011, Beninati, along with a group of friends decided to go train hopping; she missed the jump and ended up underneath the freight train. "Very few people can say they DIY'ed their own legs off," jokes Beninati of the incident.
After a relatively short stint at the hospital, just three and a half weeks, she was back at her parent's house in Sandy wreaking havoc at home. "After two months at home I had learned to climb all over the counters and I was annoying my mom so much she told me I had to figure out something to do," said Beninati. "I knew Snowbird had an adaptive program, so I decided to humor her and call them. It was November so they asked if I wanted to go for a ski lesson. I said yes, but went into it thinking 'I'm never going to be any good, I'm not going to buy any of the equipment.' After one run, all I wanted to know was how I could spend the rest of my life doing this."
Beninati first learned to ski when she was a kid, though she admits she wasn't ever any good. Her new circumstances completely changed that, she became a ski addict and a true athlete. "After I lost my legs all I could see was a broken body in a wheelchair. I couldn't see anything besides my mistake," said Beninati. "Learning a new skill gave me a sense of purpose and power. I could see beauty and potential again." Just a year after that first lesson, Beninati participated in her first race. Flash forward to today, Beninati's now lives in Park City full time, training alongside a number of other Paralympic athletes with the Alpine Head Coach Erik Leirfallom. Like everyone else, she's waiting for the February 20th announcement to find out if she'll be going to South Korea.
Outside of her competitive racing career, Beninati works with Wasatch Adaptive Sports at Snowbird, teaching others how to ski and raising adorable baby mice.