Beth Requist, photo credit National Sports Center for the Disabled

Beth Requist, photo credit National Sports Center for the DisabledTragedies 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.

Beth Requist, photo credit National Sports Center for the Disabled

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.