There they were at Windham Mountain Resort, in New York's Catskills, signing autographs on helmets, T-shirts, posters, bumper stickers, almost anything that would bare a scrawl – Bode, Phil, Tommy, Diann, Staci and Caitlin.
As in Miller, Mahre, Moe, Roffe, Manella and Sarubbi. Never heard of the last two? Well, you may soon, as both Staci Mannella and Caitlin Sarrubbi are U.S. Paralympic Athletes, and “hopefuls” for next year's Winter Paralympic Games at Sochi, Russia.
As Kim Seevers, Mannella's guide – her “adaptive equipment” in the terms used by Paralympic Athletes – told Snocountry.com, “Right now, Lindsay Vonn and Julie Mancuso are hopefuls. No one is guaranteed a spot.”
In fact, the U.S.O.C. will announce how many slots there are for Paralympic athletes June 3, 2013, and designate the team publicly Feb. 17, 2014.
So, Manella, of Randolph, N.J., and Sarrubbi of Brooklyn, N.Y., have a ways to go.
Mannella is listed on the 2012-2013 U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Development Team; Sarrubbi competed at the 2010 Paralympic Games at Vancouver, British Columbia. She is not currently listed on any U.S. Paralympic Team.
Partially Sighted Skier
Mannella, 16, was born with achromatopsia, which left her “partially-sighted” as she prefers to say, or virtually blind. Seevers finds the darkest ski goggles they sell and then covers the lens with five coats of windshield-darkener because any light overwhelms Mannella's eyes.
She is a student at the Morris County High School of Technology, working in a pre-veterinarian program, with plans to become an equine vet.
Sarrubbi, 22, and a premed student at Harvard taking time off to train, was born with ablephaton macrostomia, which left her blind and hearing impaired. She has no eyelids and other facial deformities, according to her website, and underwent the first of what would become 63 reconstructive surgeries when she was four days old.
Mannella's father is a dentist in New Jersey, and her family chose the Adaptive Sports Foundation at Windham when she was four. (Mom, Susan Arnold, remains a skier; Dad, Aaron Manella, and brother Matthew, 20, and sister Rachel, 18, are snowboarders.)
Asked whether she has tried snowboarding, Mannella said, “Kim won't let me,” while Seevers replied, “After 2014.”
Disabled Sports USA
Sarrubbi, the daughter of a New York City firefighter, was invited, with her family, by Disabled Sports USA to attend the Hartford Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge, Colo. She was hooked on skiing, and the family connected with the Adaptive Sports Foundation, up the Thruway from New York City.
Seevers, who lives near Albany, N.Y., is operations manager at the Adaptive Sports Foundation, and has served as Mannella's guide since the athlete was 11 years old.
Seevers grew up in North East, Pennsylvania, (that's the name of the town), she said “it's just below Buffalo, N.Y.” Seevers raced in high school, earned her undergraduate degree at Slippery Rock State University and her graduate degree from Penn State. She started teaching skiing at 16, and has served as National Education director for PSIA.
In an interview with Snocountry.com, Seevers said, “For guiding, you don't have to be the best ski racer.” But, Seevers must “ski the course correctly or Staci is disqualifiued.”
Helmets With Communication
Both women wear helmets with communication devices. Seevers informs Mannella, “There's a pitch, there's a drop. There's a hump.” She says, “Right turn,” “left turn.”
This is serious stuff. Mannella hits speeds of 55 mph. Think about it – driving a car on an unfamiliar road, blind, at the highway speed limit.
Mannella trains every weekend at Windham, unless she's on the road, training or racing. She spent time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center at Lake Placid this month, and this Saturday (3/16/13) heads to Park City for three days of practice before the U.S. Championships, March 19-22, for four races, then on to Sun Peaks, British Columbia, for more races.
Seevers said spring break at Mannella's school is in April. Windham plans to close on Easter.
But, Mannella is a serious student. Last semester, she earned an A average, with an errant B in gym. (Go figure.) Seevers said Mannella spends almost every minute of flights to and from competitions doing homework, and does “hours” of homework every night when they are away. She and her teachers stay in close touch by email.
On snow at Windham, Mannella often trains with the “able-bodied” ski team. Sometimes she handles the Windham NASTAR course, repeatedly, to try tight turns and flat run-outs.
At home in New Jersey, Mannella works out with a personal trainer, who has consulted Seevers on the specifics of preparing for Sochi.
She also rides her horse regularly for pleasure, she said, for balance in her training program. Although Mannella doesn't own her own horse, she has bonded with “Dorito,” and he with her.
Summers, Seever said, the two of them head to the paralympic training camp at Mount Hood, Ore., which can last from 10 to 21 days. Seevers said it's a matter of money. The U.S. Paralympic A Team heads to Chile’s winter when it’s summer in New Jersey.
Money is an issue for Paralympic athletes. Seevers estimates it will cost $120,000 to support the two of them on the road to Russia, money they need to raise themselves.
They are selling Stacy Mannella T-shirts, $20 if you pick yours up at the Adaptive Ski Foundation at Windham; $25 by mail to Windham Moumtain Ski Resort, PO Box 266, c/o ASF, Windham, N.Y., 12496. Put Staci Mannella in the memo line, and a spiffy T-shirt will be on your way.
Mannella and Seevers would also welcome sponsors towards their $120,000 goal, and gold at Sochi. The New Jersey Ski and Snowboard Council is a Gold Sponsor at $300,000. Others can pitch in at $2,000 for Silver and $1,000 for Bronze Sponsorships.
Mannella is cheerful about what she is doing. “It was pretty cool signing autographs next to Bode Miller,” Mannella told us, after her spotlight appearance at Windham, early this month.
Photo: Guide Kim Seevers with partially sighted racer Staci Mannella (courtesy of Kim Seevers)