Whenever I tell people I am a World Cup visually impaired ski racer, their first question is always, “Well how do you ski race if you’re blind?” The answer is that I can’t do it alone. I ski following a sighted guide and we communicate via Bluetooth headsets in our helmets. My guide and I ski down some of the world's steepest terrain at speeds upwards of fifty miles an hour together. Guide/ athlete pairs have a very interesting dynamic that is based off of communication and trust. Most strong relationships depend on a foundation of communication and trust, so it is perhaps unsurprising that this is the case. The pair must be able to communicate efficiently while on course as well as off the snow. For example, my guide tells me when to turn as well as what types of terrain we are hitting and in response, I tell her where I am and how far apart we are. Trust is incredibly important because the athlete must be able to depend on the guide to help him/ her safely navigate down a course. For someone like me who is a little bit of a control freak, it can be challenging giving away all of the control to someone else. Guides have a lot of responsibility helping their athletes, but it’s also a really incredible experience for the guide as well. Whenever a visually impaired person wins a medal, their guide receives one too. Guiding gives people an amazing opportunity to travel the world and compete in huge races including world championships and Paralympic games. However, guiding does come with a cost. It is a huge time commitment to travel full time with a blind athlete, and it takes a really selfless person to be a guide because a guide has to essentially give up his/ her own racing career and be fully dedicated to the dreams of the blind athlete. Together an athlete and guide make up a team and in order to be successful the pair must be equally dedicated to the goal.
In my case, that goal is to be one of the best visually impaired ski racers in the world and to compete in the 2018 PyeongChang winter Paralympics. Luckily for me I have the most spectacular guide to follow around the world. My guide, Sadie DeBaun, is a ski racer from Park City, Utah who I started working with a little over a year ago. We developed a strong relationship after a short time together, largely because we became really close friends on and off the snow. It took us some time to get to know each other, but I trust that Sadie will communicate to me everything I need to know. Not only when we are skiing, but on any adventures we may take on. Whether it be navigating through a buffet dinner in Europe, or finding the finish line of a World Cup, we are in it together. Without this trust and communication, it would be impossible for us to succeed on the World Cup circuit. Ski racing is unpredictable and challenging, and one of the reasons we are such an accomplished team is because no matter what situation we get into we know that we can work together to get out of it.
As we travel around Europe for the start of the International Paralympic Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit, I am continuously reminded of how lucky I am to be following someone who is so dedicated and committed to our goals. In ski racing there are a lot of ups and downs. It isn’t about always winning, it’s about being able to learn from all the falls and getting up stronger. Every day we go out to ski with two priorities; to have fun and to be better than we were yesterday. Regardless of the medals we end up with, Sadie and I will always share the memories, which is arguably even more valuable.