NSCD skier Katrina Schaber awaits selection for Paralympic Games
Katrina Schaber grew up hating two things: skiing and school.
She was raised in San Diego, but her parents often took the family on vacations to Colorado to teach their two daughters how to ski, an unpleasant yearly voyage for Schaber, even at the impressionable age of four.
School was also a constant challenge.
“It was really tough in the beginning,” Schaber recalls. “I didn’t really fit in with a lot of kids. I had a lot of trouble focusing on school, getting work done and I was really falling behind in athletics.”
Schaber never imagined that her problems may have stemmed from a disability, but her mother, a nurse at the Rady Children’s Hospital in California, had her suspicions. When she was eight-years-old her mother, Carolina, took her in to see a specialist. Schaber was diagnosed with both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD, and cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder caused by abnormal brain development or injury that causes physical impairment.
The news was difficult to understand for an eight-year-old.
“When they first told me, I was like ‘what are you talking about?’” said Schaber. “I didn’t understand any of it. It was like alphabet soup. Everything had an abbreviation. I didn’t know what CP or ADHD meant. I didn’t know what MRIs or EKGs or any of the stuff I needed to get done was.
“It was very confusing as a child. Next thing I knew I was getting calf straps put on my legs because they wanted to fix my walk, and all this other stuff. All of a sudden my life was sent in a completely different direction.”
Luckily for Schaber, it was the right direction. She transferred to a new elementary school that was better equipped to help her, and began taking medication for her ADHD. She quickly began improving academically, socially and physically.
Fast-forward more than a decade and Schaber’s hatred has turned to love. Not only is she enrolled in online classes with aspirations of becoming a teacher, but the 20-year-old is currently one of the countries best disabled downhill skiers, and is nervously awaiting word to see if she’ll be representing the United States of America at the Paralympic games in Pyeongchang next month.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy.
When Schaber was in fifth grade her mother heard about the National Sports Center for the Disabled while at a cerebral palsy conference, not long after Schaber’s diagnoses. She felt that it would be a good way for her daughter to meet other people going through similar situations.
Eleven-years-old and alone, Schaber was on her way to Winter Park, where homesickness eventually turned to confidence.
“I remember calling my mom that first night and just bawling my eyes out,” said Schaber. “I asked her to come take me home. I was so homesick, but she said that I was going to have to stick it out.
“Even with a disability my mom never took it easy on me…that’s how I grew up. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability you’re going to give it your all, and you’re not going to take the easy way out. It was difficult, but when I came out here all of a sudden people understood how I process things, and how I could learn to ski. Everything just started to click for me.”
By the ninth grade Schaber started training competitively. She was recruited by her first adaptive coach, Mau Thompson, and began training at Copper Mountain alongside able-bodied skiers. She returned to the NSCD during her senior year of high school, she spent her high school days commuting back and forth between California and Colorado, where she has trained since.
She participated in her first World Cup event when she was 15-years-old, and was the 2014-15 season Speed National Champion in Super Combined. In 2014 she was almost named an alternate to the Paralympic team, but missed the team by one spot. She was later invited to Sochi as part of the TD Ameritrade “Next Generation” program, where she got to attend the opening ceremonies along with numerous competition, and got a feel for how things work on the world’s biggest stage.
“We got to see what life was like for athletes behind the scenes,” said Schaber. “We saw what its like dealing with the press, going to events and what it would be like if we went someday.”
That’s the goal this year.
Schaber competes in all five alpine categories: slalom, giant slalom, super giant slalom, combined and downhill. She’s earned enough points to qualify for the games in every competition, and currently sits in seventh out of nine American female athletes that have already qualified for the games.
If selected, it will be up to the coaches to determine whom skis in which events, though Schaber said her best events are the slalom, super-G and giant slalom. She expects to find out if she’ll be invited in the next week or two.
“It’s nail-biting,” she said. “There’s always that possibility in the back of your mind that you might not make it…but when I started 2018 was the goal. Representing your country on a stage that large is a feeling that you can’t really experience anywhere else. This is the big event. This is what everybody’s been aiming for over the last four years. It would be everything to go.”
Schaber said that she’s considering taking some time off after this season to focus on school, but said that regardless of how things shake out over the next month, she intends to make a push for the Beijing games in 2022.
In her free time she’s a voracious reader, and enjoys spending time with her two German shepherds, Fiona and Buddy. She spends her summers back in California, where she takes to the gym and Mammoth Mountain to train. When she’s not skiing she’s taking online classes in education, and plans to go to a four-year university in the future, with aspirations of eventually becoming a high school history teacher.
“It’s just a way that you’re able to work and inspire the next generation in almost every profession there is. No matter where somebody goes in life they have to go to school. Being a teaching is something where no matter what you teach, no matter who you’re with it’s something where you can inspire someone to do something great with their life.”
Needless to say, Schaber’s opinions on both skiing and school have changed over the years.
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