Granby’s Joy Rondeau pushes through injury to claim spot on U.S. Paralympic team (with video)
Rondeau will head to South Korea for Paralympic Games in early March
Joy Rondeau has spent the past year pushing herself in hopes of qualifying for the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which start next month. The vicissitudes of life, including a nagging nerve injury on her arm, meant Rondeau often struggled in competitions and her slot on the U.S. Paralympic team was in doubt until a recent competition in Bozeman, Mont., where her place was secured.
“It feels surreal,” Rondeau, a Grand County resident and adaptive Nordic skier, said as she waited for her coaches to finish grooming some of the Nordic trails at Snow Mountain Ranch before heading out for a morning training session. “Actually it was a huge surprise. I have been injured since the spring and honestly three months ago I thought I was going to have to retire from Nordic. I just found out a couple weeks ago so it is all happening so fast.”
Last spring, Rondeau pinched her ulnar nerve, leading her to lose some functionality in her arm. While she continued to train and compete despite her injury, the nagging sense of concern it created and the pain it brought made Rondeau second guess herself, if only briefly.
“I just felt like I shouldn’t give up, something was telling me to keep going,” she said. “I was so frustrated because Nordic is such a big part of my life. It was God that pushed me through.”
Rondeau was born with a neuromuscular disease called Familial Spastic Paraparesis, somewhat similar to cerebral palsy. She had never tried Nordic skiing until she met her future coach, Mark Birdseye, during church one Sunday. Though she been an athlete early in life, participating in alpine skiing and wheelchair rugby, an old injury crept back up on her, requiring surgery, and forced her to leave the sporting world behind. She naturally fell into depression.
The persistence from Birdseye eventually paid dividends, however, and Rondeau began working with her coaches not long after the Sochi games in 2014.
While in Pyeongchang, Rondeau will compete in three, possibly four, different events: Nordic biathlon sprint sit, women’s mid-distance adaptive Nordic, women’s sprint sit, and possibly the Nordic Relay. The Nordic Relay race, which includes a one-pole skier, a sit skier and a visually impaired skier, is held the final day of the Paralympic games and the relay race competitors are determined by performances during the games and who is healthy.
Rondeau will leave for South Korea on March 3. She and the rest of the U.S. Paralympic team will be processed on March 5 before heading up to Pyeongchang later that same day. Rondeau will then have a few days to train and prepare for her upcoming events. The opening ceremonies will be held on March 9 and Rondeau’s first race, the biathlon sit sprint, is set for March 10.
She will compete in the women’s sprint sit on March 14 and the mid-distance adaptive Nordic race on March 17. If Rondeau is selected for the U.S. Nordic relay team she will compete in that race on March 18, just before the closing ceremonies for the games. She expects to fly back home on March 19.
As Rondeau prepares to leave the county she was thankful for the assistance of her two primary local coaches, Birdseye and Shawn “Shooter” Scholl. Rondeau also thanked all the local Nordic centers for their assistance with her training regimen as well as her friends, family, coworkers and employer who have helped make it possible for her to dedicate so much of her time in pursuit of a Paralympic berth.
“A lot of people are behind me pushing me towards the same goal,” Rondeau said. “I am very blessed with an incredible support system. I just want to make them proud.”
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