Push it to the limit: Grand County adaptive skier prepping for 2018 Paralympics
Joy Rondeau knows what it means to push herself to the limits.
The young Grand County woman was recently honored by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame for her athletic achievements and is training tirelessly in hopes of representing the US at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea next year. Rondeau, an adaptive Nordic skier and biathlon competitor, received the 2017 Athlete with Disabilities Award from the state’s Hall of Fame this spring during an induction ceremony with some of the most recognizable names in the Colorado sporting world. Receiving the award was a humbling experience for Rondeau who, despite competing in individual sports, chalked her success up to God and the dedication of her coaches Mark Birdseye and Shawn “Shooter” Scholl.
“It is really cool that God has given me a great platform,” Rondeau said. “I just want to be able to honor him. It is not anything I have done myself, it has been a team effort.”
Rondeau’s humility notwithstanding its is more than just the depth of knowledge provided by her coaches that enables her success, it is her tenacity in training; exuberance in the face of exhaustion. One of her coaches noted a particular instance recently when Rondeau was training so hard she became sick and vomited.
“She just cleaned it up and we got right back to work,” Birdseye said with an air of pride in Joy’s drive. “In my opinion Paralympians are living no different than the rest of us, they are just maximizing their abilities. We walk around in our able bodied world and think we are working hard, when really we could do more. Parlympians are maxing out who they are as people.”
It is precisely that maximization of effort that brought Joy before a crowd of roughly 500 people this spring during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was a whirlwind for Rondeau who met the likes of Champ Bailey, got to wear a Superbowl Championship Ring and received an autograph request from famed Rockies slugger Dante Bichette.
Surprisingly though Rondeau, who was born with a neuromuscular disease called Familial Spastic Paraparesis that somewhat analogous to Cerebral Palsy, had never tried Nordic skiing until she met her future coach Mark Birdseye during church one Sunday. Birdseye has spent several years working with disabled athletes at the Winter Park Resort based National Sports Center for the Disabled and keeps his eyes open for potential future athletes. He approached Rondeau with the suggestion, who was uncertain at first. Rondeau, who walks with the aid of crutches, had been an athlete early in life, participating in alpine skiing and wheelchair rugby. But when an old injury crept back up on her, requiring surgery, she left the sporting world behind and fell into depression. The persistence from Birdseye eventually paid dividends though and Rondeau began working with her coaches not long after the Sochi games in 2014.
“Mark and Shooter were always very clear with me that they were training me to compete, not just for fun,” Rondeau said. “Before I started [Nordic] skiing I was a lazy stoner. I was in a lot of pain and was in bed most of the day. I would get up to eat, shower and go to the bathroom.”
Rondeau says she prayed extensively on the issue, asking God to give her the strength and drive to pursue adaptive Nordic skiing if that was his will.
“And Jesus did,” Rondeau said. “He gave me the drive and competitiveness. I ended up falling in love with it.”
As Rondeau readies for this winter’s competitions she is training for about three hours each day. While the 2018 games in South Korea loom over all of her efforts she, and her coaches, are keeping their eyes on the proverbial five-meter target; a December race in Canmore that will decide which Americans will represents the US in South Korea next year.
Rondeau competed in South Korea last year and secured one of thirteen slots for the US team at the 2018 games. To actually compete in the 2018 games though she will still need to be among the top 13 American competitors in Canmore. To that end Rondeau is looking to get on the snow as early as possible. She and her coaches are currently working to raise funds to send Joy to northern Finland to get as early as start as possible.
According to Birdseye Rondeau is a rarity in the world of Paralympic competitors in that she also works a regular job; whereas most Paralympic level athletes are able to dedicate themselves to training full time. As such Rondeau and her coaches were deeply thankful of the local entities that help make her training program possible. Ferrellgas helped Joy raise funds in the community, the local Nordic ski centers provide her with trail time, and Middle Park High allows her to use school facilities for training during the summer months.
“I am honored to be able to represent my country,” Rondeau said. “It is really surreal for me. I had no idea what I was getting into, but i wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
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