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Think you understand resilience? Meet Alana Nichols, who makes Rudy look like a kid with an OK attitude.
At 17, she was a multisport star dreaming of college softball glory. Then a snowboarding accident left her paralyzed from the midthighs down. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe her feelings. Two dark years later, Nichols started bouncing back.
“I’ve been an athlete all my life, and I thought I’d never be an athlete again,” the New Mexico native says. “Then I found wheelchair basketball, and that opened my eyes to the opportunities people with disabilities have to play sports.”
Thus began an incredibly inspiring, Bo Jackson–like athletic odyssey. An alternate in 2004, Nichols scored hoops gold at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008. Then she got into monoskiing and won four more medals, including two gold, in Vancouver in 2010, just nine months after the death of her brother, D.J. She also snagged a silver in Sochi (2014) and raced a sprint kayak in Rio de Janeiro (2016).
How does she do it? Fitness is key. For the Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she prepped for monoskiing with CrossFit-type workouts focused on her core—which plays the role that hips do in able-bodied skiers, helping her hold angles during high-speed, G-force-loaded turns.
She also credits sponsor Toyota, which stresses at mobilityforall.com that it’s critical for every body to move—and to go for your own gold.
Even so, you need something extra to overcome extraordinary obstacles: resilience. “There were plenty of days after my injury that I didn’t even want to leave the house,” Nichols says. “If I had let that stop me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Nichols is the only American woman to win gold at both a Summer and Winter Olympics.