Tragedies have a way of turning your life around—sometimes opening doors and allowing you to discover a brand new path. Beth Requist, a paralympian sit-Nordic ski racer who now trains with the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) is an example of this.
In August 2011, Requist was paralyzed from the waist down after jumping off a cliff into the upper Colorado River. She always had a passion for skiing and after her accident, she wanted to look at being active again. In 2012, she decided to take on sit-Nordic ski racing. And she did just that. In just a few months, her training with the NSCD at the Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA of the Rockies, was already in full swing. After just 2 1/2 years of training, she competed in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Russia, where she placed 16th.
We talked to Requist to find out about her journey and what it takes to become a champion in a new sport.
THE CLYMB: Although you’ve always liked skiing, you didn’t actually take up Nordic skiing until after your accident. Can you tell us how that came about and why skiing?
BETH REQUIST: I was discharged from the hospital in November and knew I wanted to get back on the snow asap. So I contacted the NSCD to find out how I could learn to Alpine and Nordic ski. I was told I had to wait a year to alpine, but I could Nordic. I didn’t want to sit around all winter feeling sorry for myself, so I decided to try Nordic. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed Nordic skiing. I have always been an endurance athlete, and Nordic gave me the ability to challenge my body and see how far I could push myself.
THE CLYMB: Can you tell us about your accident and how it changed the way you see yourself as an active/sports person?
BR: I jumped off a 45-foot rock into the water and hit the water wrong, instantly breaking my back. I was definitely in shock, because I couldn’t feel my legs and still swam back to the raft. We didn’t have cell service, so we had to float back to our vehicles and my brother ran to a pay phone. I was then flown to Denver for a few surgeries and then on to Craig Hospital for two months of rehab.
THE CLYMB: Did you question your ability to be active again after the accident or was it always a matter of getting better and then deciding what to pursue?
BR: I never questioned my ability to do sports, it was always a matter of how can I do this now and when can I start. I was very fortunate to already be living in Winter Park, CO where the NSCD (National Sports Center for the Disabled) is located. So I knew I could get back on the mountain and ski again.
THE CLYMB: In just two years, you’ve accomplished a lot in this sport. Can you tell us a bit about your 2013 and 2014 wins? Which one was particularly challenging or which one are you most proud of?
BR: A lot of hard work and dedication were involved. There is no room for slacking off when you are trying to compete at a high level. I would say 3rd in the 10k at Nationals 2013 was rewarding. I went up against some phenomenal athletes, several that had medaled in other sports.
THE CLYMB: What are the challenges of training and competing as a Paralympian?
BR: I think for Paralympian’s, finding the right equipment is very difficult. Almost all of our sports equipment has to be custom made to fit you and your needs. It is also very expensive. So finding funding is also a challenge. I was very fortunate to already be living in Winter Park, where I had many Nordic trails within a short drive. I also had a few amazing coaches who were athletes themselves.
THE CLYMB: How did you get into biathlons? And are they as much fun as they look?
BR: A biathlon is where you ski and then shoot five targets, then repeat. I was just planning to do cross country, and just decided it wouldn’t hurt to try shooting. I loved it. It adds another challenge to the sport. The challenge is not just shooting the targets, but bringing your heart rate down quickly so you have a more steady shot. The NSCD partners with Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA of the Rockies and that’s where lots of my biathlon training takes place.
THE CLYMB: Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia?
BR: It was an experience I will never forget. The atmosphere and people I met were amazing. We stayed in the endurance village, which was very nice. It was very warm, so we had challenging snow conditions, but it definitely makes all the hard work worth it.
THE CLYMB: Any other sport you’d like to try or have you tried?
BR: Currently I am learning to alpine ski and race. A completely different sport then Nordic, but a bit more up my alley. I have loved alpine skiing and snowboarding since I was a kid, so this just feels at home. I dabbled in cycling, and loved the physical challenge, but decided I needed to chose one sport and focus on that. So I chose alpine.
THE CLYMB: What’s your training routine like? What kind of physical preparation you do year round?
BR: We ski five days a week at Winter Park Resort for alpine ski racing, plus I go to the gym 2-3 times a week. In the summer, I do more weight training and in the winter I just try to maintain and get as much on snow time as possible. The NSCD’s mountain offices are located at Winter Park Resort.
THE CLYMB: What’s next for you? Any competitions lined up for next year? Any special challenges you’d like to take on?
BR: There are a couple races here at Winter Park Resort, including the NSCD’s Winter Park Open Dec. 16–19th. In February, the NSCD will host the 41st Annual Wells Fargo Ski Cup, and nationals in March. Learning to ski and race at the same time is definitely a huge challenge this year, but I’m up for it.