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Eyes Wide Forward: Paralympian Ski Racer Beth Requist Talks about Her Focus on the Future

Eyes Wide Forward: Paralympian Ski Racer Beth Requist Talks about Her Focus on the Future Beth Requist

By Troy Hawks

Sometimes its easy to find yourself stuck in a moment. U2s Bono sang a song about it. Beth Requist, a paralympian sit-Nordic and alpine ski racer, doesnt allow it.

The moment that Requist could be languishing in occured in August 2011: Thats when she jumped off a 40-foot cliff feet-first into the Upper Colorado River. Its a plunge dozens of other whitewater thrill seekers take every summer day on this popular stretch of river that runs just south of Kremmling to State Bridge, Colorado.

On her turn to jump, Requist says she entered the water at an awkward angle. There was no immediate pain, but she knew something was wrong. She couldnt feel her legs.

In that split-second moment, Requists life was changed forever.

Its such an easy thing to fall into thinking about all that you used to be able to do, but you have to be positive, you have to look forward, you have to keep a positive attitude, Requist says. Its not easy to do, but you have friends and family who can help.

Beth Requist 2Her friends and family were with her immediately. She swam back to raft. She was in shock. Others continued jumping in the water, unaware of what happened. Her friend pulled her into the raft. They had to float further downstream to reach cell service. Her brother, already on shore, raced in the direction of the nearest pay phone.

By the time they reached the take-out an ambulance was already on-scene, and Flight for Life was on its way in for a landing. The prognosis was a double-shot of bad news: She burst the T-11 vertebrae of her spine and also bruised her spinal cord. She spent the next two months in Craig Hospital in Denver, one of the top spinal cord injury facilities in the nation.

I cried every single day during rehab, it was very hard, she says. But I was never alone, I always had friends and family there, so Im super fortunate; so many of the other patients there were from all over the U.S., they didnt have friends or family that could be with them all the time.

As you listen to her recount the accident and the aftermath, Requist shows her character; and its clear that her DNA includes heavy portions of kindness, strength, and positivity. She wasted no time moving forward with her life.

She grew up skiing at Winter Park, and lived in Fort Collins, so that November she sent a letter to the National Sports Center for the Disabled saying that she wanted to learn to ski alpine and Nordic. Her doctors told her she needed to wait a year for her back to heal before learning to alpine. She went sit-Nordic skiing a handful of times that winter, but she says she was very weak coming out of the hospital.

Nordic skiing is a task for anyone. Now imagine doing it using only your arms.

The 2012/13 season was Requists first true season as a competitive sit-Nordic ski racer. And just two and half years after her accident, she was racing in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Russia.

Sochi was so beautiful, all of the volunteers were so nice, and helpful, they were just excited to have all of us athletes there, she says. It was an all-around good experience, and fun to be there with the team and watch all the events, it was just unforgettable.

Beth Requist 1Sit-Nordic skiing is gaining attention here in the U.S., but its following is small in comparison to other European countries such as Germany and Russia. The international competition is strong. In Sochi, Requist placed 16th in the 12 kilometer (km) race, and 19th in the 1 km sprint.

The competition on the World stage is tough, its very competitive, all of the women there are good, Requist says. But its good to see where you are so you can judge where you need to be, and train for that.

I left feeling like I gave it my best, Ive only been in the sport for two seasons, so I was just happy knowing I did the best I could, you dont always walk away from a race with that.

When we spoke she was busy training and developing her skills in hand-cycling. She tried for the first time in March, and she says its just like it looks: super challenging.

She goes to the gym twice a week to lift weights, focusing on exercises that replicate the pushing and pulling motion of hand-cycling. Its perfect cross-training for sit-Nordic skiing.

Sit-Nordic isnt for everybody, its tough, and not everybody is into that, but I encourage people to at least try it, you should just try it once, she says. But even if thats not your thing, keep looking for it. Competitions are good for the disabled because youre surrounded by other people going through the same thing that you are.

There was the moment back in 2011 when Requists doctor walked into her room and told her that she had a 1 percent chance of ever walking again. Its not a moment that she got stuck in.

I dont blame myself, it was nobodys fault, she says. The only thing you can do is move forward and not look back, not think about life before the accident; you have to think about now and the future.