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Disabled Alpine Championships start today

Preston Utley/Vail Daily Sandy Dukat turns past a gate Wednesday during a downhill training run at Golden Peak in Vail. The U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships start today.
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VAIL – Ricci Kilgore lost the use of her legs in a car accident five years ago. She didn’t lose her competitive drive, or her dream to compete one day in the Olympics. On Wednesday at Golden Peak in Vail, Kilgore – a former Division I pole vaulter at Boise State – skied training runs on her mono-ski in preparation for today’s downhill at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships. Today’s race marks the first foray into competitive disabled skiing for the 25 year old from Reno, Nev. She’s raced recreationally four times this winter with able-bodied skiers, but she’s never vied for coveted FIS points against skiers with similar disabilities.She’s looking forward to the opportunity. She also feels she has a good shot at impressing U.S. Disabled Ski Team coaches, and taking the next step toward her dreams of Paralympics glory.”It’s going pretty good,” she said. “I actually am very confident. Before I got in a car accident, I made it to the Olympic trials in pole vaulting. I kind of know the competitive level of thinking. I’ve always wanted to be an Olympian, and I didn’t give up after that car accident. With the spinal cord injury, I’ve just kept going.”Kilgore’s story was just one of many to be discovered at the base of Golden Peak Wednesday.During the next four days, the members of U.S. Disabled Ski Team and hopefuls, like Kilgore, from all around the country will compete in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom.The championships are not the most important event of the year for current members of the American team, said U.S. disabled program director Sandy Metzger, but they are vital for finding the future stars of the disabled skiing.”If you’re looking to get on the U.S. team, this is one of the events you need to attend to get the points you need to qualify to make the U.S. team,” Metzger said. “After this event is when we name the team. For any of the development athletes, this is where they have to be. Generally, we name about three to five new athletes every year.”Tyler Walker, a two-year veteran of the U.S. Disabled Team from Franconia, N.H., echoed Metzger’s statements that the championships have limited importance for current team members.”I was on the World Cup circuit all year, so it’s not the most important event for me,” said Walker, who lost his legs at 4 and skis in a mono-ski. “It’s not a requirement to make the team anymore.”He said it is important that he and his teammates race at their top level. There is the urge not to go full-bore, considering the circumstances, but Walker said he sees it as his role to give the hopefuls a fair sampling of World Cup skiing.To join the best, they need to see what they are up against.”It’s important because of the fact that people are trying to qualify for the team, so we have to be out here to make sure they have the competition to prove themselves,” he said. “That’s how I take it. If you’re on your way to making the team, you come to this event and we get to see you.”Added Metzger, “The (hopefuls) look up to the U.S. Ski Team, and they want to see where they are and how they gauge against the best team members.”

Kevin Connolly, 19, of Bozeman Mont., came to the championships this week because he said U.S. Disabled Ski Team coaches told him he’d get a fair shot to make the team.Connolly had a strong first practice run Wednesday, finishing among the top five. He crashed hard on his second run when he leaned too hard on a left turn. After somersaulting three times, he was thrown from his mono-ski and ended up wrapped up in the protective net-fencing lining the course.He said his right arm was a little tender after the crash, but that it wouldn’t stop him from racing today.”To qualify for the ski team, you really need to be here competing and have a good showing,” he said. “I really expect to either get one of the top-two times or to wreck. (Wrecking is) honestly not a big deal to me. I started last year getting my points built up so I’d have a good seed going into this. This year, I’ve been trying to hit every race that I can to collect USSA and FIS points.”

Metzger said this week’s championships are also vital for promoting the sport of disabled skiing. She said she hopes the event draws spectators who are familiar with disabled skiing, and especially those who are not.When people see disabled ski racing up close, she said, a lot of misinterpretations go right out the window.”It’s extremely important for promotion,” she said. “People might hear about disabled skiing and confuse us a lot with the Special Olympics. We’re not the Special Olympics. If you go race against Clay Fox or Monte Meier down the slopes, it changes your image of what disabled skiing is. These are real athletes that train and compete and condition at the same level as the top able-bodied athletes.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.com.A disabled primer:Competition among disabled skiers takes place in three categories: standups, sit-skiers, and blind or visually impaired. The categories are then broken up into classes which are graded by the severity of the disability. According to disability, athletes receive a percentage factor which is designed to equalize differences between categories (i.e., so a B-1, a totally blind skier, is not compared directly with a B-3, which has greater degree of vision). The percentage factors are continually under review to ensure the greatest degree of fairness.The classes:LW-1 – Two skis, two poles (disability of both legs above the knees)LW-2 – One ski, two poles (disability of one leg above the knee)LW-3 – Two skis, two poles (disability of both legs below the kneeLW-4 – Two skis, two poles (disability of one leg below the knee)LW-5/7 – Two skis, no poles (disability of both arms or hands)LW-6/8 – Two skis, one pole (disability of one arm or hand)

LW-9 – Two skis, two poles (disability of a combination of arm and leg)LW-10 – Mono-skiLW-11 – Mono-skiLW-12 – Mono-ski(Classification in LW-10-12 is based on a functional test; LW-10 is more severely disabled, LW-12 the least severely. The classifications are for skiers with disabilities of both legs.)B-1 – Two skis, two poles (totally blind, can distinguish between light and dark, but not shapes)B-2 – Two skis, two poles (partially sighted, best correctable vision is up to 20/600 and/or visual field of five degrees)B-3 – Two skis, two poles (partially sighted, best correctable vision is up to 20/600 to 20/200 and/or visual field from five to 20 degrees)- Information courtesy of U.S. Disabled Ski TeamVail, Colorado


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