By Aaron Siegal-Eisman
People that overcome tragedies can have the power to inspire others to reach for the stars. US Paralympian Stephani Victor sums up that up with her story. In sports especially people look for role models to look up to and in the face of adversity Victor braves it all on the Ski Slopes. Not only has she persevered through a tragic incident, but also come out of it with Olympic accomplishments that lots of people strive for. Her inspirational story motivates others to have the courage and fearlessness that she emulates in her life.
Photo: Isao Horikiri
The Tragic Accident
Born able-bodied in Ames, IA, Victor grew up wanting to become an actress. After moving and being raised in Sewickley, PA, she decided to move to California to pursue her passion of acting. At the University of Southern California’s film school, she grew her craft and graduated with honors in the highly competitive school. In 1995 on a normal day in her life, she walking down the street headed to dinner, when Stephani was hit by out of control car, which crushed her into a parked car. To save her life, the Doctors amputated her legs and the next day everything was different.
“I lost my legs doing something not dangerous,” Victor said. “The worst thing that I could imagine happen to me happened doing an everyday, mundane life activity”.
One life-changing moment can alter the course of your life. The next three years, Victor had to go through a difficult rehab process that included 11 reconstructive surgeries, prosthetic fittings, and physical therapy to get her used to her new situation.
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” Freidrich Nietzsche said. Four years after her accident, Stephani attempted to ski in what used to be an activity before the accident.
When asked why she got into Skiing she responded, “In Ski Racing, I can manage and calculate the risk through my training and preparation,” Victor said. At the slopes, she met Marcel Kuonen, former racer for the Swiss National Team, who ended up being her long time coach and companion.
“The two greatest loves of my life, my husband and skiing I found on the same day,” Victor said.
Stephani pursued Skiing as a Paralympic athlete by training days on in with Kuonen to perfect her mono-skiing abilities. Just one year after getting back on the slopes, Victor won he first US National Title in Slalom. That was just the beginning to a ski career full of medals and “Victor-y’s”.
In 2002, Stephani won her first World Cup in France. That year she placed in the top three for eight of the 11 races she competed in. If I went year by year on her medals and wins, lets just say it would take a long time.
Victor is a four-time World Champion, five-time overall World Cup Champion, has 17 World Cup victories, and a10-time US National Champion.
“Stephani Victor is a shining example of what it takes to succeed in life on all levels,” Mike Marolt, ski filmmaker said.
Also, she competed in the Paralympic Winter Games earning five medals since the 2002 Olympics.
“I remember every single uniform I’ve been issued,” Victor said. “I have a tremendous amount of pride because I love this country and the freedoms that we have”
Victor holds two gold’s (2006 and 2010), two silver’s (both in 2010), and one bronze (In 2002).
“It is one of the greatest memories I know, being on the top of the podium and hearing the national anthem and watching the flag raise,” Victor said.
These medals came from four different events, which include Downhill, Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Super combined.
Not just the medals have come to Stephani, but also the awards and honors, such as two time ESPY Award nominee, 2009 USOC Paralympic Sportswoman of the year, two time adaptive athlete of year in ski racing, and a 2002 Olympic torchbearer.
Don’t be shocked to see more added to the long list of career achievements in the future.
The Undeniable Skiing Passion
Stephani’s skiing career has placed her as one of the top Paralympic Skiers in the world. She puts a lot of hard work and dedication into the sport.
“Skiing gave me the outlet to really explore and create and to do that with my partner has been a tremendous blessing,” Victor said.
The traveling and experiences gained through skiing has made her grateful.
“I’ve been to some amazing places throughout the world and there isn’t one time that’s passed that I come back into the United States and don’t feel just incredibly overwhelmed with gratitude,” Victor said.
Victor showed her skiing passion in the last scene of the Ski Channel’s “The Story”, where she talked about her disability and perseverance from the help of skiing.
“Stephani flat out gives one of the best performances ever in film and does it all from a chair on a mono-ski,” Steve Bellamy, writer and director of “The Story” said.
Skiing has blessed Stephani’s life and her story has given inspiration to many others.
“Just like Jimmie Heuga impacted me, she will no doubt impact others to make the world a much better place,” Marolt said.
Skiing rehabbed her emotionally to what she is today.
“I think Skiing saved my life because it gave me love, which can truly heal all wounds,” Victor said.
Stephani has overcome a lot in her time, from the accident to rehab to re-learning skiing and finally become a world champion in the sport.
Victor put it best with the lesson that everyone should take from her inspirational story.
“As human beings especially with faith, self-love, and the willingness to explore, you can push beyond any boundaries that are holding you back,” she said.