Competing On The Water Brings Joy, Healing To Decorated Paralympian Alana Nichols

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Photo: Alana Nichols Paralympian kayak
Four-time gold medalist Alana Nichols will compete in the 2016 Paralympics in a new sport, sprint kayak.

Alana Nichols has rarely met a sport she won't try. The longtime Colorado resident, who now lives in California, was the first woman to win Paralympic gold in both winter and summer sports. She first competed in wheelchair basketball in Beijing in 2008, then alpine skiing. She took up a new sport, sprint kayak, for the games that start in Rio next week, and could become the first person to win gold in three different events in any Olympics or Paralympics.

In a conversation with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel, Nichols explains sprint kayak as, "a single person in a long, narrow boat, and it's done on flat water, no waves, and it's basically start-to-finish a 200-meter dash." She trained in part by surfing, which is what brought her to California recently.

Nichols became a paraplegic when she crashed her snowboard in Colorado in 2000. She will compete in Rio on September 15 in the sprint kayak semifinals. The finals take place the next day.

Nichols on why she loves surfing:

"I think it is such a great sport, it's brought so much joy to my life but also healing. The experience of being out in the ocean, for somebody with a disability, is so freeing, and it really does give you perspective on life if you can go out in the ocean and tackle some big waves then you can get back on the shore and do whatever life hands you."

On how it affects her as a competitor to know that most of the attention on Rio for the Olympics is gone, before the Paralympics start:

"I think the Paralympic movement is gaining ground and making strides for mainstream media, and it's really important for us to get our due diligence when it comes to the media. We train just as hard, with less of our bodies, to compete for the same amount of time as our able-bodied counterparts. And for us, it's so important that the general public understands what the Paralympics is about ... We would love for more and more people to see what people with disabilities are capable of."

On how she feels about her paralyzing accident more than 15 years later:

"You know, about five years post-injury and on, I started really giving thanks for that accident and being grateful for the experience. Because honestly my life has been incredible since I started playing adaptive sports, and I've been able to travel the world and represent the Paralympic team for over 10 years now. And, you know there's no telling what my life would've been like had I not broken my back, but I can only give thanks for what I do have and it's been a pretty incredible journey."