During treatment for osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, Nicole Roundy’s right leg was amputated above her right knee. She was only eight years old at the time. Less than a decade later, Nicole was on skis, but triple track skiing didn’t quite do it for her, so she set her sights on snowboarding. Today, she’s one of the top-ranked adaptive snowboarders in the world, recently taking bronze for Team USA in the IPC World Cup in La Molina, Spain, and she’ll represent the United States in the Paralympic Games in Sochi.
Backcountry: Let’s go back to the beginning of your boarding career. Fill us in on how you got your start on the snow.
Nicole: I actually tried skiing first. You know, on one ski. I loved the snow; I loved going fast, but I couldn’t be very independent. I fell a lot, and it was hard for me to get back up. I saw people snowboarding and thought maybe I could do that with my prosthetic. Everyone told me no; even people in adaptive sports told me no because I have an above-the-knee prosthetic.
But I went snowboarding anyway. My first prosthetic didn’t bend at the knee, so if I fell, I would just timber. Two years later, in 2006, I got a new prosthetic knee that mimics the movement of your quad, and that made things smoother.
Backcountry: How did you start competing?
Nicole: After I got my new prosthetic, I went from sticking blue runs to playing in the park and hitting jumps. Someone asked me if I wanted to compete in the USASA National Championships. It’s the able-bodied circuit, but they’ve always been very supportive of adaptive athletes.
Backcountry: Let’s talk about Sochi. What’s your biggest challenge going into these Games?
Nicole: Right now, I’m the only above-the-knee amputee riding at this level. I really have to push myself mentally and physically to get on the podium. But I’m so close that it’s possible. Normally in the Paralympics there are classifications, so if you’re missing an arm and a leg, the points are leveled to make things more fair, but not in snowboarding. We’re all competing for the same thing. I like that because it pushes me to be a better athlete.
Backcountry: What’s the competition like from other countries?
Nicole: The U.S. has the biggest and most advanced field of athletes, but we wouldn’t be going to the Paralympics if there wasn’t solid competition from other countries. It’s very competitive in the US, very competitive, and even more competitive at the Paralympics.
Backcountry: Who are your biggest competitors?
Nicole: Bibian Mentel from the Netherlands. She’s set the bar, like, way up there. She was an Olympic snowboarder before she lost her lower leg. She sets times that rival the men’s times. I think we all look up to her. Amy Purdy and Heidi Deuce, they’re doing awesome. But, you know, I’m right on their tails.
Backcountry: Anything you’re nervous about?
Nicole: I try not to overthink these things because then I get nervous. I’m excited, but if I let myself feed into those fears then my nervousness escalates, and my performance deteriorates.
Backcountry: Any training secrets you’re willing to share?
Nicole: When your muscles are sore and all you want to do is sit on the couch: get on a bike, ride for 30 minutes, and I promise—you’ll feel better.
Backcountry: What did you have to do to qualify?
Nicole: You’ve got to be at the top. For the national team, there’s an A team and a B team. To qualify for the A team, you need to be top 3 internationally. To be on the B team, you need a top 5 finish in at least one event. There’s more to it than that, but that’s a basic breakdown. To qualify for the U.S. Paralympic team you need be in the top 10 internationally.
Backcountry: Tell us about your favorite victory.
Nicole: We usually race the clock, but last year in Canada we did a demo heat race. When I race the clock, I’ve missed the podium by a hair. With the competitors’ right there in front of me, I really knew where I had to be. I took second. Just knowing that I could do that was so exciting.
Backcountry: Any final words of wisdom?
Nicole: My philosophy is: Do you have the courage to fail? If you have the courage to fail, you have the courage to succeed. I wasn’t even supposed to snowboard, and now I’m going to Sochi.
Nicole will compete in Women’s Para Snowboard Cross on March 14th. This is the first time snowboarding will be featured in the Paralympics, and it brings the total number of medal events at Sochi to 72.