Park City athletes Danelle Umstead and Saylor O’Brien prepare for the Huntsman Cup
The 32nd annual race runs Jan. 27-29
The National Ability Center has announced that the 32nd annual Huntsman Cup World Para Alpine Ski Races is a go from Jan. 27-29 at Park City Mountain Resort.
As it has from the beginning, the competition, a World Cup-sanctioned race, provides opportunities for adaptive athletes from around the world to hone their skills and qualify for other competitions, according to the National Ability Center’s website.
While details of this year’s race are subject to change as the nonprofit keeps abreast of COVID-19 protocols, two local athletes — Danelle Umstead and Saylor O’Brien — have been in training for their races.
Umstead, a blind skiing champion who lives with multiple sclerosis, added another challenge to her training last year.
She snapped both her right tibia and fibula in half on Feb. 10, 2020, while cruising down a practice run in Kimberley, British Columbia.
“The only other bone I broke in my life was my wrist when I was ski racing four or five years ago,” said Umstead, a three-time Paralympian bronze medalist. “So, I’m done. I figure, three bones is enough.”
Umstead, who was also a contestant on Season 27 of “Dancing with the Stars,” was able to focus on healing her leg while she, her husband Rob and son Brocton kept to themselves most of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I guess breaking something during COVID-19 was a good thing, because we didn’t do very much,” she said. “But it has been a long process to recover, for sure. The pain factor is still there, but you have to start somewhere. No pain, no gain or something like that. I have years of experience in racing, but I don’t have years of experience with healing.”
After multiple surgeries, physical therapy and healing, Umstead feels ready to compete again.
“It may not be my best race, but I have to restart somewhere,” she said. “There really isn’t a better place to start, but in my home in Park City in a race where I will feel comfortable.”
Umstead first competed in the Huntsman Cup in 2006, a few months after she moved to Park City from Taos, New Mexico, and she is grateful that the event will be held this year.
“We’re going to follow all the precautions for COVID-19 and everything, and it will be nice to be outdoors and ski racing with people from all over the world,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been competing in the Huntsman cup, the NAC has always come through for the athletes, and those who have disabilities. This race means a lot to many people, and I think it means the most to athletes and hopefuls who have never been to the Paralympics.”
The 2022 Paralympics in Beijing, China, are also in Umstead’s sites.
“I’m trying to make the team,” she said. “I want to compete in Beijing, which will be my fourth Paralympics. Then I plan to retire after that.”
In the meanwhile, Umstead is focused on her Huntsman runs.
“This race is something I and other athletes can count on to get our points up and ski race with some of the best disabled athletes in the U.S.,” she said. “It’s phenomenal.”
Like Umstead, O’Brien is looking forward to competing in this year’s Huntsman Cup.
“Having a race in my hometown is super awesome,” said the 17-year-old alpine monoskier who has spina bifida. “This is where I’m supposed to be. This is my purpose, and this is the path in my life.”
O’Brien, who has skied in the Huntsman Cup for the past couple of seasons, has been busy with her training on and off the slopes.
“I’m out skiing, and doing gates and all of that fun stuff from 9 a.m. until 2 (p.m.), and then I work out after ski training,” she said. “Also, I’m still in school, so that’s the other part that takes up my time.”
O’Brien is a student at Picabo Street Academy.
“That’s where I am,” she said, and then after a pause, she laughed and added, “Well, I’m really on a laptop at home every day.”
O’Brien can’t remember a time during her childhood when she wasn’t obsessed with skiing.
“I started skiing at a young age, and it was all about this need-for-speed type of mentality,” she said. “When I was 10 I was really getting into going fast down the hill, and I recognized there was ski racing in the Olympics and Paralympics.”
That year, O’Brien’s family reached out to the National Ability Center, and she landed on its competition team, which she’s been a part of for the past six years.
During that time, the skier had to adjust to new rules regarding adaptive skiing competitions.
“I grew up learning to four track, which is stand-up skiing on skis and using outriggers in each hand,” she said. “Then they changed the rules and I had to move to sit skiing.”
Sit skiing utilizes a molded chair, called a bucket, that is mounted onto one or two skis, and two hand-held outrigger skis.
“The whole decision to learn how to sit ski came down to me asking myself if racing was that important to me, and it was,” O’Brien said. “So, I took a season and a half off to learn how to sit ski, and the NAC got me an instructor to get me back on the team.”
Although O’Brien is focused on returning to the Huntsman Cup this year, she has another goal in her sights.
“I want to make it to the Paralympics,” she said. “That little girl who wanted to go as fast a possible has lit up, and I want to do all I can to get there.”
When: Jan. 27-29
Where: Park City Mountain Resort
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