Forget about a picture of perseverance and courage, Alana Nichols is a billboard of it. A snowboarding accident immediately paralyzed the New Mexico native when she was 17 years old. She had been an athlete since she was five years old, so the transition to not being able to use her legs was difficult she recalled in an interview with Team USA’s YouTube channel.
“My life was absolutely changed … I used my legs more than the average person and it didn’t make any sense to me how my legs could suddenly be taken from me,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I just had to reinvent myself.”
Nichols did. She discovered wheelchair basketball while she was a student at the University of New Mexico.
“All of a sudden, I felt like I had another goal, another purpose. My competitive spirit came alive again. Soon enough, I got into my own sports chair and I met other women my age who were playing the sport. In a very competitive and friendly way, I decided I wanted to be the best women’s wheelchair basketball player in the world”
A few years later, Nichols made the U.S. Paralympic team and won a gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball in the 2008 Games in Beijing. Her Olympic gold medal was the first of many, and not just in a single sport. Two years later, she won two gold medals in alpine skiing during the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver, which made her the first athlete to win a gold medal in both the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games.
“I really believe in myself. I really do believe I can accomplish what I set out to accomplish,” she said.
Unfortunately, during another competition, Nichols suffered broken ankles and a concussion, forcing her to retire from competitive skiing. However, Nichols didn’t let that stop her from pursuing her dreams, and she transitioned to canoeing and eventually earned a spot on the 2016 Paralympic team that competed in Rio.
Nichols has continued to make waves in sports, literally and figuratively. Nichols began adaptive surfing, and has been an important voice in urging the Paralympics to add the sport ahead of the 2024 games. She also supports the High Fives Foundation, which was founded by her partner, Roy Tuscany, and works to support the dreams of outdoor action sports athletes by raising injury prevention awareness while providing resources and inspiration to those who suffer life altering injuries.
The last year has been an exciting one for Nichols, as she gave birth to her first child last summer and began her term as the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation in January 2020, which works to advance the lives of girls and young women through sports and physical activity. She served on the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Board of Directors for the last six years and is dedicated to reversing the drop out rate of young girls in sports.
“There’s a cyclical nature that starts with young girls who don’t have the same opportunities as boys,” Nichols told TeamUSA.org. “Then there’s Title IX compliance issues through high school and after that the media piece where there’s not equality in coverage. It always comes back to the little girl who isn’t able to see women winning and so she can’t see herself there finding success in her sport, so she won’t stay in it.”
Alana Nichols has adapted so many times in her own athletic journey while always coming out on top. Now, as a role model and leader, she is committed to helping provide a promising future for the next generation of well-deserving girls.