A few more former NCAA student-athletes still have a chance to fight for medals in Sochi. On the heels of a Winter Olympics that featured more than 100 former NCAA student-athletes, seven more are participating in the Paralympics either as competitors, coaches or guides (who help visually-impaired competitors navigate courses in the skiing events). The 2014 Winter Paralympics, a competition for physically disabled athletes, began on Friday, March 7, and will feature events in the disciplines of alpine skiing, biathlon, Nordic skiing, ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling. The event will be held over the course of 10 days at many of the same venues where the Olympians competed last month.
"Student-athletes with disabilities reflect all the best of the spirit of athletic competition and we are so proud of their participation in the Paralymics," said Bernard Franklin, NCAA executive vice president for membership and student-athlete affairs and chief inclusion officer.
Like their Olympic counterparts, these participants hail from a variety of NCAA sports. While some participated in sports like hockey and alpine skiing that they’ll also compete in during the Paralympics, others hail from different sports entirely. Sean Halsted, for instance, was a rower at Washington State who graduated in 1992. After joining the Air Force, Halsted fell 40 feet from a helicopter in a training exercise and lost the use of his legs. But in Sochi, he’ll be participating in both the Nordic skiing and biathlon events. Like Halsted, cross country skiing and biathlon competitor Augusto Perez played a different sport in college. He was a soccer student-athlete at Paul Smith’s College before graduating in 1994 and later losing his left leg to cancer.
Umstead, who was an alpine skier at the University of Massachusetts, will guide his visually-impaired wife, Danelle, through several alpine events in Sochi. The duo won a pair of bronze medals at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
And Reid Pletcher, who graduated from Colorado in 2012 after a successful Nordic skiing career there, also made the trip to Sochi as a guide. When his own Olympic dreams were derailed due to a scary fall while mountain climbing, he has stepped in to assist others. Pletcher will be the guide for visual-impaired Nordic skier Jake Adicoff, serving as Adicoff’s eyes as the two trudge through the Sochi snow.
“I am happier than I’ve been in two and a half years,” Pletcher told Colorado athletics. “I was in the middle of some big life changes, giving up what had been almost my entire life. This gave me an opportunity to still be a part of it, to live vicariously through Jake and get to experience the Olympics – just in a different way.”