It’s been four years since Stephanie Jallen won two bronze medals at Sochi, Russia becoming the darling of the 2014 Paralympic Games. With the 2018 Paralympic Games in less than two weeks at PyeongChang, South Korea, it’s go time for for Jallen.
At Sochi, Jallen was not favored to medal. Her coach told her prior to the games to not expect that to happen. Competition was tough in 2014 and, as a result, the USA only garnered 18 total medals.
Four years ago, Jallen was so unknown, the TV announcers called her Yallen. Because the then 18-year-old from Harding was fairly new to Paralympic downhill skiing, she felt she had nothing to lose. Jallen raced with very little pressure on her except the pressure she put on herself.
When she came away from Sochi, she was not only a two-time medal winner, she was voted Best Female Paralympic Athlete during the inaugural Best of the U.S Awards, a television show broadcast nationally live from Washington D.C. She also grabbed Best Female Paralympic Moment for her reaction after taking her first bronze medal.
Those were great memories for Jallen and the reality was, win or lose, she was seriously thinking of walking away from the sport to focus on college.
Having been born with CHILD syndrome (Congenital Hemidysplasia with Ichthyosis and Limb Defects Syndrome) which left Jallen with only one fully functional arm and leg, the sport of downhill has been very hard on her body, in particular on her ankle. She’s suffered many injuries in her career, including a 10” gash to her face requiring an emergency procedure that had to be performed on the mountain before they could move her to a hospital.
CHILD syndrome is very rare as there are approximately only 60 known cases worldwide. The syndrome affects primarily females with only two known cases to be male and affects only one side of the body.
Jallen is in Aspen, CO, doing double session training this past week until tomorrow when she will return to Greater Pittston for four days.
The trek to South Korea begins March 3, as she will fly to San Francisco with an overnight stay until Team USA gathers. The team embarks for Seoul, South Korea on March 4 before leaving for its final stop at PyeongChang.
“I’m feeling confident and strong,” Jallen said by phone from Aspen. “I just had a meeting with my nutritionist and I lost weight but it was in body fat and I’m still the same muscle leanness.”
The hill at PyeongChang is no stranger to Jallen as she had the opportunity to be one of the few U.S. Paralympians chosen to go to South Korea in 2017 for trial runs on the slopes.
“It’s fun. The hill is difficult; in a sense, it’s very technical,” Jallen said about the slopes at PyeongChang. “It’s not flat; it’s rolling. It has a lot of character.”
Going into the 2017-2018 World Cup season, she had been nursing a bad ankle, resulting in having a cortisone injection six weeks ago and another earlier this past week.
“It’s freaking amazing (the cortisone injection),” said Jallen. “Today, I was completely pain free all day long. It’s great skiing pain free and I can ski to the best of my ability. Being pain free is a game changer, for sure.
“I have bone-on-bone, chronic tendonitis and a split tendon,” she added. Once the Games are over and the season complete, Jallen will undergo surgery to correct the problems.
Jallen was selected to Team Toyota in 2017, signing a two-year contract. Once she completes her surgery and rehab, she will be back on the slopes competing in the 2018-2019 World Cup season to fulfill the second year of that contract.
Going into PyeongChang, Jallen is more experienced and knows what is in front of her, putting additional pressure on her to do well. She said she would focus on her times and not her competitors.
“I actually try to pit myself against the men’s times and not my peers,” explained Jallen.
“Right now, I’m just keeping my mind occupied on other things and not the Games. I’m thinking about home, school, and family. I’ll worry about my races when it becomes time and not until then.”
Her biggest rival will be Marie Bochet of France, who has been the most successful downhill competitor over the last five years.
It’s well documented that Jallen is the best one arm and one-legged skier in the world where she battles event after event against women with two arms and two legs.
Jallen hopes to repeat and surpass her achievements at Sochi.
“There’s nothing like winning,” she said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
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