New Stars Rise; Old Stars Shine at Paralympics

By Miki Fairley

Hannah Pennington, another newcomer, zips down the slope in a giant slalom race during the Columbia Crest Cup competition in Winter Park, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of NSCD)

Alongside familiar names, new stars are shining in the firmament of elite disabled sports.

One of these is 23-year-old Hannah Pennington, Thornton, Colorado. After successfully participating in various ski competitions, Hannah won a spot on the US Paralympic Alpine Ski Team and experienced the excitement of heading to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Paralympics March 7-16.

Sixty percent of the U.S. Paralympic ski team, including Pennington, trained with the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winter Park, Colorado. Frank Chang, MD, her doctor at Children's Hospital in Denver, encouraged her at age seven to go skiing with a group of patients in the hospital's Handicapped Sports Program.

"I took that one day, and with the help of numerous volunteers, physical therapists, doctors, coaches, and sponsors, have turned it into my career," Pennington said, as quoted by the Denver Business Journal February 11. The strength and self-confidence she has gained from skiing has helped her to believe she can do anything she sets her mind to, the article noted. "My cerebral palsy might still affect my balance, coordination, flexibility, and strength the same as ever, but it doesn't control me."

Chang, an orthopedic surgeon, has been a vital part of Hannah's team. A former doctor for the US Freestyle Ski Team in Calgary, Alberta, and Lillehammer, France, Chang takes 40 to 50 patients skiing several times a season in Winter Park as part of the Children's sports program, according to an article in The Denver Post February 1.

Hannah was able to thank Chang in a unique way: she wrote an essay nominating him as an "Everyday Hero" as part of United Airlines' "Everyday Heroes Program" honoring outstanding persons in all walks of life. Out of 7,000 nominees, Chang and 73 others won an all-expense-paid trip to the Olympic Games in February.

"He's just awesome," Hannah told The Denver Post. "I never would have gotten to the hill or where I am without his help." Approximately 430 athletes from over 30 countries participated in this stellar event. Pennington's teammates on the women's alpine team were Sarah Billmeier, Muffy Davis, Lee Joiner, Csilla Kristof, Allison Pearl, Mary Riddell, Sarah Will, Allison Jones, Sandra Dukat, Jennifer Kelchner, and Lacey Heward, according to Challenge.

Men's alpine team members were Timothy Clay Fox, Jason Lalla, Chris Waddell, Monte Meier, Andy Parr, Kevin Bramble, Adam Fromma, Dan Kosick, Joe Tompkins, Carl Burnett, and George Sansonetis.

Nordic team members were Candace Cable, Steve Cook, Mike Crenshaw, Bob Balk, Scott McNeice, Willie Stewart, and Rob Walsh.

The sledge hockey team included Patrick Byrnes, Manuel Guerra Jr., David P. Conklin, Matt Coppens, James Dunham, Sylvester Flis, Lonnie Hannah, Daniel B. Henderson, Joseph E. Howard, Chris Manns, Brian Ruhe, Jack Sanders, Pat Sapp, Francis Xavier, and Josh Witt.

By the time you read this, the games will be over and medals won. Whether or not they captured the gold-or the silver, or bronze-every athlete is a winner, sharing in the triumph of the human spirit over disability. -Miki Fairley

Alpine ski racer Sarah Billmeier of Yarmouth, Maine, zooms down a giant slalom course during the recent Columbia Crest Cup race at Winter Park Resort, Colorado. Billmeier, who trained with the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) before being named to the US Disabled Ski Team, competed in the Paralympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo courtesy of NSCD)

Mike Crenshaw became a full member of the US Disabled Cross-Country Ski Team in 1995. Crenshaw captured first place in the World Cup last spring and competed in the 2002 Paralympics. (Photo courtesy of Disabled Sports USA/Challenge Magazine)

Adam Fromma, Grand Lake, Colorado, is one of 20 athletes who trained with the NSCD before being name to the US Disabled Ski Team. Fromma represented the US during the recent Paralympic Games. (Photo courtesy of NSCD)

Newcomer Allison Pearl climaxed her first year as a mono-skier with the US Disabled Ski Team in the Paralympics. (Photo courtesy of Disabled Sports USA/Challenge Magazine)

Csilla Kristof is another rising star in the world of Disabled Sports. At 17, she is adding national and international competitions to her record. (Photo courtesy of Disabled Sports USA/Challenge Magazine)