UA alum seeks more gold at Sochi Paralympics
Alana Nichols’ inopportune injury in late June will make the defense of her two Paralympic winter gold medals difficult. But if anyone is good at playing catch up, it’s this Arizona alumnae.
Nichols, the first female American athlete to win gold medals in both summer and winter Paralympic Games, injured her rotator cuff in preparation for the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. The injury will require surgery and cause Nichols to miss training in places like Australia, New Zealand and on a glacier in Austria in October.
“It’s gonna put me out three to six months, which means I won’t have any summer training and I basically will have to make up a ton during the race season, like starting in December,” Nichols said. “So I’m gonna be playing catch up, but I’m trying to stay in the best shape that I can.”
Nichols, who graduated from Arizona in 2006, started competing internationally in alpine skiing after winning world championships on the USA women’s wheelchair basketball team.
2014 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES -- NBC / USOC Promotional Shoot -- Pictured: Alana Nichols -- (Photo by: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC).
Nichols has competed in three Paralympic Games, 2008 in Beijing, where she won a gold medal in wheelchair basketball, 2010 in Vancouver, where she won two golds, a silver and a bronze in skiing, and the 2012 games in London, where USA finished fourth in basketball.
Nichols said she didn’t expect to become the first female athlete to win gold in both the summer and winter Paralympic Games, especially since Vancouver was her first winter games.
“On a scale of one to 10, it’s like a 15,” Nichols said. “It still kinda blows my mind that I made history. Nobody else can do that now, because I did it. It’s amazing, it honestly just blows my mind. It just happened and I got to be that person.”
Going into her first winter Paralympic games, Nichols said she didn’t make winning gold a goal.
“Well, I knew it was a possibility going into the Vancouver games, I was a rookie on the team in Vancouver,” Nichols said. “I just had to give it my all and I couldn’t really set those massive goals of winning gold or anything, I had just started really ski racing about two years prior to that I was just happy to be there, you know?”
A softball star at Farmington High School in New Mexico, Nichols broke her back snowboarding when she was 17, causing her to be paralyzed.
“I’ve been an athlete all my life, since I was five, I played three sports [softball, basketball and volleyball] throughout my younger childhood and into my teenage years, until I broke my back,” Nichols said.
“Being an athlete, it really helped build my confidence when I was a younger person and helped me set goals and achieve them.”
Around two years after her accident, Nichols said she decided she was finally ready to get back into the sports world that defined her childhood. She first started on the slopes after Sante Fe Mountains Resort gave her a scholarship.
Also in 2002, Nichols learned about Arizona’s wheelchair basketball program, at that time headed by current men’s wheelchair basketball coach Derek Brown. Nichols decided to make the move to Tucson.
“I didn’t even know there were other women my age in wheelchairs, let alone a team and possibly being able to compete on a scholarship to the University of Arizona,” Nichols said.
She decided to move out to Tucson that summer, first attending Pima Community College before she tried to get into the UA.
“It was a really big move on my part … but I really wanted to play basketball and the coach [Brown] there was really excited to have me and saw lots of potential in me,” she said.
A decade later, Nichols is one of the top paralympians in the world.