Think of any female Olympic athlete, past or present, Summer or Winter Games.
You probably thought of a gymnast or an ice skater. Nothing wrong with that. The most popular Olympic sports for women typically involve dance moves, grace, and glitter.
What about the other sports? Extreme sports like snowboarding and skiing are, unfortunately, predominantly associated with men. But in Sochi, for the first time in Olympic history, women will showcase their talents in Ski Jumping, Ski Half-Pipe, Ski Slopestyle, Snowboard Slopestyle and a Mixed Relay Biathlon.
It’s time to shine the spotlight on female athletes who are dominating in sports not usually associated with their gender. We spoke with Snowboard Cross Racers Faye Gulini (USA) and Dominique Maltais (Canada), and Freeskiers Angeli Vanlaanen (USA), and Roz G (Canada), and we discovered that these four athletes have more in common that just competing for the top spot on the podium. They’ve all overcome life changing adversity that would make most people give up their Olympic dreams.
Read on to learn more about their inspiring stories en route to the Sochi Games.
They Battled Injury
Twenty-one-year-old Gulini tore her ACL during a routine practice run in California. She says, “You can do everything right and still get taken out and injured. The biggest thing is learning to be confident again when you’re racing. It’s so hard to do that when you’re coming back from an injury.”
After disappointingly not qualifying for the Vancouver Olympics, Maltais tore her ACL, then discovered she had celiac disease, which forced her to remove gluten from her diet. “It’s been exactly four years since I learned that I have celiac disease, so I can’t eat gluten,” she says. “I totally changed my diet. I totally changed my life, and I feel so much better.”
They Combatted Disease
Valaaneen was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2009. She’s had to balance her professional skiing career with treating her illness, while at the same time promoting awareness about the disease. “I accepted the experience but never accepted the disease as a part of me. I decided I wasn’t going to let this disease define me,” says Valaaneen. “I wasn’t going to let it stop me from following my dreams.”
They Overcame Tragedy
In 2012, Roz G lost her friend, teammate and women’s Freestyle Skiing forerunner, Sarah Burke, to the sport. “I am completely aware that my ski career will forever be connected to both her and her passing—I think of them as somewhat separate,” she says. “I came to the realization that the best way to honor Sarah was to ski my heart out as hard and aggressive as possible.”
They Willed Triumph
Athletes representing different countries race against each other for gold medals, but many don’t know that their opponents had to overcome some of the same challenges they did.
A torn ACL, celiac disease, Lyme disease, or the death of a friend would bring the curtain down on many athletes’ careers; but these four women are in Sochi, ready to compete—their injuries, diseases and heartbreak behind them. Each will use her past adversity to fuel her performance.
When they show up at the starting line, their stories may get forgotten in the heat of the moment, but these U.S. and Canadian badass women deserve immense admiration and respect, regardless of the outcome of their competitions.