Plano Native Vying for Fourth Paralympic Games

Danelle Umstead is vision impaired and relies on someone else's vision to ski

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Imagine hurtling down a mountain on skis at 80 mph. Now, imagine doing it blind.

Danelle Umstead doesn't have to.

The three-time Paralympic alpine skier is vision impaired and skis with a sighted guide: Her husband Rob.

“People always ask me, I can’t believe you do this with your husband, and I think through sport it has taught us to communicate,” Umstead said.

Umstead moved to Plano with her parents when she was two, the age they realized she had low vision.

“I was walking into walls and parked cars,” Umstead said.

She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that leads to total blindness.

By the time she graduated from Plano High School, her central vision had deteriorated.

She lost all usable vision in her 20's when her mom Connie died... from cancer.

It's the reason Umstead said she left North Texas.

“I felt like a part of me had to let go because I felt every time I was in Texas, everything reminded me of her,” Umstead said.

It was her dad, Peter, who lifted her out of those dark days.

“I always say he gave me life twice,” Umstead said.

When she was 29, he invited her to try adaptive skiing, which he discovered living in New Mexico.

“Within a few hours, I fell in love and knew it was where I needed to be,” Umstead said.

Her career took off with Rob, her husband and sighted guide, by her side and in her ear.

“I'm more relying on headsets in our helmets,” Umstead said.

Then, there were more setbacks.

After winning two bronze medals at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic games, Umstead was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

She won her third bronze at the 2014 Sochi games.

But a relapse at the 2018 PyeongChang games forced her to sit out an entire season.

Then, in 2020, she broke a leg in a crash on the slopes.

“So the whole journey coming back and trying to get prepared for the games in Beijing has been insane,” Umstead said.

It’s a challenge she's overcome.

“I just believe that no matter where you are in life, if there's something you really want, and something you’re really passionate about it, why wouldn't I get back up and keep on going, right?” Umstead asked.

She now lives in Park City, Utah where she trains or races every day. Her sites are set on a fourth U.S. Paralympic team.

“It will be named right around the middle of February and I actually turn 50 on February 15,” Umstead said.

She is an athlete defying the odds, with a vision to bring home gold from Beijing.

The Paralympic Games begin March 4.

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