2022 Winter Paralympics: Meet the 15 women representing Team USA

Oksana Masters of Team USA celebrates winning gold during a medal ceremony at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing, China
Getty Images
0 Comments

The Paralympics – and especially the Winter Paralympics – still are very uneven in terms of gender balance. Of the 67 athletes set to represent Team USA at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics, just 15 (23%) are women.

But while they may still be few in number, the women of Team USA are a formidable crew. Here’s a look at the 15 women who will represent the U.S. at the 2022 Winter Paralympics.


Oksana Masters (Nordic skiing)

Oksana Masters opened the 2022 Winter Paralympics with a biathlon gold medal in the women’s spring event (sitting classification). It marks the 11th medal of Masters’ career.

Masters, who was born in Ukraine, said she takes pride in representing both the U.S. and Ukraine in Beijing.

“It’s the stars and stripes that keeps my Ukrainian heart beating. I’ve always been proud of where I come from,” she wrote on Instagram.

READ MORE: Ukrainian-born U.S. Paralympian Oksana Masters shares happiness, heartache ahead of Beijing Games

Masters is one of four members of Team USA (including three women) who are competing at two Paralympic Games in just six months. In September, Masters won two cycling gold medals at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Masters is expected to compete in all six individual Nordic events (three in cross-country skiing, three in biathlon) at the 2022 Winter Paralympics.

ON HER TURF UPDATE: Oksana Masters concludes 2022 Beijing Games as most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time


Kendall Gretsch (Nordic skiing)

Illinois native Kendall Gretsch made her Paralympic debut four years ago in PyeongChang, where she became the first American athlete to win biathlon gold at either the Paralympics or Olympics.

She continued her winning ways at the Tokyo Paralympics – where her triathlon classification (PTWC2) was contested for the first time – and won gold in a thrilling, sprint-from-behind finish.

She opened up the Beijing Winter Games with a bronze medal in the biathlon sprint event on day one. Gretsch, who competes in the sitting classification, is expected to compete in all six individual Nordic skiing events in Beijing.

MORE PARALYMPICS COVERAGE: In biathlon nail-biter, Gretsch and Masters go 1-2 for Team USA


Lera Doederlein (Nordic skiing)

Eighteen-year-old Lera Doederlein is making her Paralympic debut in Beijing.

Originally a sled hockey player – competing for her hometown San Diego Ducks – Doederlein was convinced to try Nordic skiing in 2019 by one of the greatest U.S. skiers of all time: Oksana Masters.

Doederlein decided to give it a try, and she ended up moving to Bozeman, Montana, to train with the U.S. team.

Still, some of her sled hockey habits stuck with her, which earned her the nickname, ‘Zamboni.’

“I started off skiing with a hockey player mindset and could be rough and very intense,” she says.


Erin Martin (Nordic skiing) 

At age 35, Erin Martin is still finding her way around a sit ski. The Paralympic rookie only started the sport in 2019.

During a rock climbing trip in 2015, Martin fell about 30 feet, sustaining a T4 spinal cord injury that resulted in paralysis from the chest down. Determined to stay active, Martin – who works as a nurse – took up rowing. A few years later, a friend recommended skiing.

Martin told the Seattle Times that skiing has continued to push her out of her comfort zone.

“That is one of the things that I really appreciate about nordic skiing,” she said. “It has made me face my own fears and discomfort and work through that and push past that. That process has been really awesome for my confidence and my personal growth. And working through that has also made me a better athlete.”


Grace Miller (Nordic skiing) 

Grace Miller is making her second Paralympic appearance in Beijing, four years after she competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Games as a high school student.

Born in China, Miller was adopted at age three and grew up in Palmer, Alaska. She started skiing the following year, her early start aided by mom Kymberly, a ski coach.

Miller competed collegiately, attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks for two years, before transferring to the Anchorage campus. She graduated in three years with a degree in biology.


Sydney Peterson (Nordic skiing) 

Sydney Peterson is making her Paralympic debut in Beijing after a breakthrough performance at January’s World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Lillehammer, Norway, where she won three medals.

Peterson, a longtime cross-country skier, is relatively new to adaptive sports. Prior to January’s World Championships, she had raced only one World Cup event. As a result, she didn’t automatically qualify for the Paralympic Games. But thanks to her strong performance in Lillehammer, she received an invitation to compete in Beijing from World Para Nordic Skiing and the International Paralympic Committee.

Peterson, who grew up in Lake Elmo, Minn., skis collegiately for St. Lawrence University.

PARALYMPIC UPDATE: Last fall, the Paralympics weren’t on Sydney Peterson’s radar. She just won silver in her Games debut


Danielle “Dani” Aravich (Nordic skiing)

Like Masters and Gretsch, Dani Aravich has also managed the quick summer-to-winter turnaround. She made her Paralympic debut in Tokyo, where she competed in track and field, though she didn’t progress out of her heat of the women’s T47 400m.

Now competing as a Nordic skier, the 25-year-old Aravich is planning to enter four events in Beijing (the sprint and middle-distance races in both cross-country skiing and biathlon). The Idaho native, who was born without her left forearm, competes in the standing classification.


Laurie Stephens (Alpine skiing)

The 2022 Winter Paralympics will mark Laurie Stephens‘ fifth Paralympic appearance. The Massachusetts native made her debut at the 2006 Torino Games, where she won three medals. The 37-year-old enters Beijing as a seven-time Paralympic medalist and she is slated to compete in all five alpine events.

Stephens is coming off of a strong performance at the 2022 World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway, where she won two medals (gold in giant slalom and bronze in slalom).


Danelle Umstead (Alpine skiing)

Three-time Paralympic medalist Danelle Umstead, one of Team USA’s flagbearers for the Opening Ceremony, is making her fourth Paralympic appearance in Beijing.

Umstead, who began losing her eyesight at age two, competes in alpine skiing’s visually impaired classification. Her husband Rob serves as her on-course guide, relaying directions and course conditions via bluetooth radio headsets.

Committed to helping the next generation of para athletes, the three-time Paralympic medalist launched her non-profit, Sisters in Sports Foundation, in January 2019. The organization is dedicated to creating a community of active women and girls with disability by providing mentor and education programs.

“Without mentorship and establishing relationships with all the amazing athletes – I believe I still would be in (a) dark place,” writes Umstead on the foundation’s site. “The community of women and girls in sport, who chose to lift me up and allowed me to lift them up as well, believed in me and most of all encouraged me to be ‘my best self.'”

READ MORE: Paralympian Danelle Umstead aims to empower next generation of women to ‘master their impossible’


Allie Johnson (Alpine skiing)

Chicago resident Allie Johnson was competing at a World Cup race in January when she found out that her grandfather, William “Bill” Johnson, had passed away.

“He is the reason I was able to begin ski racing, the single greatest thing I’ve done with my life,” Johnson wrote. “I will always be grateful for his unwavering support of this crazy dream of mine and for pushing me to be the woman I am today. He passed away unexpectedly while I was in Europe for a World Cup race and although I didn’t get to say goodbye, I know I was exactly where he wanted me to be.”

A few weeks later, Johnson officially qualified for Beijing. The 27-year-old is slated to enter four alpine skiing events in her Paralympic debut: super-G, giant slalom, slalom, and combined.

Away from the snow, Johnson works as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor.

RELATED: Allie Johnson uses ‘ski like a girl’ motto as motivation for first Paralympics


Brittani Coury (Snowboarding) 

Four years after winning a silver medal in banked slalom, Brittani Coury returns to the Paralympic stage. The 35-year-old from New Mexico is expected to be a top contender in both banked slalom and snowboard cross.

In 2003, Coury broke her right ankle while snowboarding. She had nine surgeries over the next eight years as complications continued to add up. She ultimately decided to have her leg amputated below the knee in June 2011 in order to pursue a more active life.

A registered nurse, Coury spent time working in COVID-19 wards at the beginning of the pandemic.


Brenna Huckaby (Snowboarding) 

It took a legal fight for two-time Paralympic gold medalist Brenna Huckaby to arrive at the 2022 Winter Paralympics.

As in nearly every Paralympic sport, para snowboarders are classified by disability. The goal behind classification is to ensure that it is an athlete’s competitive ability – rather than their degree of disability – that determines whether they win a medal.

There are currently three para snowboarding classifications: one for athletes with upper-limb impairments (SB-UL), and two for athletes lower-limb impairments (SB-LL1 and SB-LL2).

Huckaby, who lost her right leg to bone cancer in 2010, competes as an LL1, which is for athletes with more significant impairment than athletes in LL2.

But in 2019, the International Paralympic Committee nixed two of the women’s classifications (including LL1) from the Beijing program, citing the depth of the competitive field. (For example, at the World Championships in January, just four women competed in the LL1 banked slalom event.)

With her event no longer on the program, Huckaby requested a chance “compete up” – either with the LL2 women or LL1 men. Because her impairment is considered more severe than athletes in LL2, she argued that there would be no impact on competitive fairness.

But her request was denied by both the IPC and World Para Snowboard. So Huckaby and her lawyer sought an injunction, which she won on appeal in January.

Even while “competing up,” Huckaby has had success in the LL2 classification and the 26-year-old is expected to be a medal threat in both snowboarding events (banked slalom and snowboardcross) in Beijing.

UPDATE: These snowboarders had to wage a legal fight to compete. They finished on the podium anyway


Katlyn Maddry (Snowboarding) 

Born in China, Katlyn Maddry was adopted by an American family when she was six. She grew up in Wasilla, Alaska, and got her start in adaptive snowboarding after a middle school trip to Alyeska Ski Resort.

Following a strong showing at January’s World Championships – where she finished fourth in banked slalom – the 20-year-old could challenge for a medal in her Paralympic debut.


Batoyun “Oyuna” Uranchimeg (Wheelchair curling) 

Batoyun “Oyuna” Uranchimeg will serve as the lead for the U.S. wheelchair curling team (a mixed gender sport) in her Paralympic debut.

Born and raised in Mongolia, Uranchimeg was visiting Minnesota in 2000 when she was in a car accident that resulted in her being paralyzed below the waist. She decided to stay in the United States for her rehabilitation process, unsure of what life would look like for her in Mongolia.

“I had never seen anyone in a wheelchair in the streets of Mongolia, or knew anyone with a spinal cord injury,” she said in 2015. “To my knowledge, there was no single building, street or any facility that was accessible for wheelchairs. There’s no social structure that takes care of people with disabilities. So, I think you get the idea of what life was like for people with disabilities in Mongolia. I knew I was going to be a huge burden on my family.”

As a result, Uranchimeg was separated from her family, including her then six-year-old son. Her family was ultimately able to join her eight years later.

RELATED: How an invitation to ‘lunch’ launched wheelchair curler Oyuna Uranchimeg’s Paralympic career


Pam Wilson (Wheelchair curling) 

At age 66, Pam Wilson owns the distinction as the oldest member of the 2022 U.S. Paralympic team. Wilson was introduced to the sport in 2010. She will serve as the U.S. team’s alternate in Beijing.


On Her Turf writer Lisa Antonucci and the NBC Sports research team contributed to this report. 

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Diana Flores looks to break down gender barriers with turn as AFC defensive coordinator in 2023 Pro Bowl

Courtesy Diana Flores
0 Comments

Diana Flores admits she was surprised when she became a viral sensation last spring, courtesy of a 15-second slow-motion clip showcasing her evasive maneuvers and fancy footwork while leaving at least three defenders in the dirt during Mexico’s 2022 national collegiate flag football championship.

“I never expected someone to record that moment,” said Mexico City native Flores, who led her team – the Monterrey Tech Borregos – to their third consecutive national title as a senior last May. “I was just having fun. I was just playing the game I love and then days later to see that it was viral on the internet — it was crazy. But at the same time, it was exciting because I remember when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of flag football role models to follow. So now, for me to be a role model for many boys and girls that play my sport is something that really makes me happy and proud and also motivates me to keep getting better.”

Flores, who led the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team to a gold medal at the 2022 World Games, will have the chance to promote her sport on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend when she serves as the AFC defensive coordinator for the NFL’s 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Flores will be joined by Peyton Manning as the AFC head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator. On the NFC side, U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback Vanita Krouch will serve as offensive coordinator, with Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as defensive coordinator.

“I think that this has been one of the best things in my life,” she recently told On Her Turf about her Pro Bowl appointment. “It is like a dream. I mean, I grew up watching football, watching the NFL, playing flag football. And now to be able to be part of all of this — it is bigger than my biggest dreams.”

Flores’ football dreams began as when she was just 8 years old. Her father — who played quarterback for the perennial football powerhouse Monterrey Tech program — took her to a practice and she fell in love with the sport. But as the time there were no teams for girls her age, so she played with girls twice her age and used it to her advantage, focusing on her own abilities and sharpening her skills. By age 14 she was playing NFL Flag in Mexico, where she was the only girl in the league, and at 15 she started playing NFL Flag in the U.S, where she finally played on an all-girls team.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

“I remember when I started playing, I used to receive a lot of like comments, directly and indirectly from other people, like, ‘Why do you play that sport? That’s not a girls’ sport, that sport is for boys, you’re get injured, you’re going to get hurt, don’t play with boys, that’s too rude.’ And the list keeps going. But my mom and dad were so supportive. They always encouraged me not to listen to anybody, to just follow my passion.

“And I think thanks to them, I’ve always had this mentality that gender doesn’t matter. It just matters how passionate you are about your dreams, how hard you work for what you want to achieve. And that you will always demonstrate what you’re made for, depending on the hard work you do. So, I’ve lived through that [negativity], I have experienced that. And I think that it has been one of my biggest blessings to be able to experience — for myself — what sport can do and how gender barriers get broken when you follow your dreams and you connect with other people through your passion.”

At just 16 years old, Flores made Mexico’s national team, playing in the first of four Flag Football World Championships – so far. Last summer at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, the 24-year-old Flores led Mexico to a 6-0 record, which included two wins over the U.S. women, who took silver. In the gold medal game against the United States, she completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 210 yards and four touchdowns in Mexico’s 39-6 victory. She finished the tournament with 23 touchdown passes, the third-most among women’s teams, and she was the only starting quarterback to beat USA’s star QB, Krouch, who is 19-1 in international tournament play.

All that international experience so early in her career has given Flores a wise-beyond-her-years approach to playing flag football, a sport where she was frequently the only female player on the field and often the only Latin American as well.

“When I first came to the U.S., it was a little shocking to notice that I was probably the only Latin American girl playing,” she recalls. “But I think that it was easy for me because I got all the support from my coaches and my teammates. And since a young age, I think that I started to realize that sometimes what you do is for something bigger than yourself. That’s why you have to always give your best, in any situation. Even at that young age, I understood that I was representing more than myself on the field, I was representing Latin American people, Latin American girls in a sport that [many people thought] was meant to be for boys.”

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

One door Flores hopes to help open is the one leading to the Olympics. Flag football is on the short list being considered for inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028 Los Angeles. As an ambassador for flag football for the NFL and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), she’s participated in talks with the International Olympic Committee, and just last month she was joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Mexico City where they joined forced to promote women’s empowerment and inclusion.

“I think for me, that experience is one of my top three,” she said of spending time with Biden. “I call them gifts from life, something that you didn’t expect it to happen, and somehow, one day, you’re right there in front of the First Lady. I admire her for what she does for boys and girls, for empowering woman and giving opportunities for everybody to achieve their dreams. So it was truly an honor to meet her, and also to be able to keep impacting my sport, not only on the field, but [off] the field, and have the opportunity keep inspiring others and keep impacting the world.”

As for what she hopes fans at the Pro Bowl and viewers at home take away from Sunday’s flag football showcase, Flores hopes they’ll see the characteristics that made her fall in love with flag in the first place: creativity, speed, agility, teamwork, passion and a lot of heart.

“I hope to show to all little girls and women that dreams come true, that nothing is impossible, to keep inspiring and opening opportunities and doors for women in sports, especially in the world of the NFL and football and flag football,” she says. “We’re going to make history, and I am so proud and happy for that. I’m really hoping that it is just the first step, not only for me, but for all the women that are coming after me.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Paula Moltzan talks first World Cup podium, being Mikaela Shiffrin’s teammate and unconventional path to the U.S. Ski Team

Flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

0 Comments

When Vanita Krouch got the news that she was named NFC defensive coordinator for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback admits her jaw nearly hit the ground.

And then she realized something even more profound.

“For the longest time, thinking about the moment, everything, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream come true. Is this really happening?’” said the 42-year-old Krouch, known as the “Tom Brady of flag football” with a 19-1 record as USA’s starting quarterback in international tournaments since 2018.

“But then I started thinking to myself: You know what? None of us grew up thinking of this as a dream to obtain. So really, it’s kind of reversed where I’m living a dream. I get to be a pioneer in this growth of flag football for all and inclusion for all, youth and adults, [women and men]. It’s such an inclusive sport, and I get to be a part of this growth and still actively play. It’s exciting. I’m literally living the dream. I’m very much like, ‘Guys, don’t pinch me. Let me keep sleeping.’”

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Krouch will be joined by Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as NFC defensive coordinator. On the AFC side, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football quarterback Diana Flores will serve as offensive coordinator, with Peyton Manning as head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator.

But Krouch’s journey to the Pro Bowl stage began under the unlikeliest of circumstances and was inspired by her own family odyssey, which began in Cambodia during the horrific regime of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Krouch’s mother, Phonnary Krouch, fled the country with three young sons in tow, running by night and hiding by day to escape, finding safety initially at a refugee camp in the Philippines. That’s where she welcomed Vanita, in September 1980, and two months later the family made its way to the United States. Krouch’s father exited the picture upon their arrival in America, leaving Phonnary to raise four children alone.

“In a nutshell, my mom is an amazing woman,” said Krouch, who first found sports via an elementary school flyer advertising youth soccer in Carrollton, Texas. “On the journey, she had a lot of trials, tribulations, … and after our dad left us, it was just mom and four kids in this little one-bedroom apartment. So, it was a challenge. I’m just so amazed by her strength and will to never give up.”

She also credits her mom for standing up to then-stereotypical notions that Asian girls should not play sports.

“I’m just thankful, honestly, that my mom allowed me to break the Asian culture barriers of a woman playing sports because that’s not easy,” she said. “She faced a lot of backlash from the community. But she said, ‘Hey, my child’s making good grades. She’s healthy, she’s good. She’s staying off the streets. I don’t see a problem.’ And she just let me do it. I was just lucky to have a mom that let me spread my wings.”

Krouch also had a few mentors along the way. Her elementary school PE teacher, Toni Neibes, stepped in to pay for those initial soccer fees and continued her support as Krouch transitioned to basketball in the fourth grade. She fell in love with the sport and excelled at it as well, eventually earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Southern Methodist University. She wears the No. 4 to this day in honor of Niebes, who wore the same number as a young athlete. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher, Judy Ward, as having a lasting impact after the teacher made a habit out of showing up for her youth basketball games.

She pays tribute to them both through her clothing line, 4Ward Apparel, which features ever-changing collections emblazoned with relevant slogans encouraging female empowerment, inclusion and her personal mantra of “paying it forward” – something she does with the line itself. Each month, Krouch donates a portion of the sales to individuals, families or organizations in need.

After graduating SMU in 2003, Krouch continued to play basketball in semi-pro and adult leagues, but she was still searching for something to satisfy her competitive drive. She and a former college teammate stumbled on flag football during a Google search for local Dallas-area activities, and the rest – as they say – is history.

“It was like I drank the Kool Aid and I never looked back,” she says of her start in flag in 2006. “It’s just like every game, every play is a new challenge, and it’s addictive for a competitor, so I just fell in love with flag. I actually think I’m way better at flag than I was at basketball.”

She moved into the quarterback position through some sly maneuvering by current USA Women’s Flag Football head coach Chris Lankford. They were playing together in a local tournament when he “tricked” her into the QB position, despite Krouch knowing “zero football language.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin gets candid about grief, loss and finding motivation on the mountain

“One day I showed up for a tournament and I asked, ‘All right, guys, who’s our quarterback?’ And he says, ‘We’re looking at her,’” she remembers. They kept the plays simple, and her team made it to the playoffs that season. Krouch has been a QB ever since.

Krouch joined the national team in 2016 and was inducted into the National Flag and Touch Football Hall Fame that same year. Last year at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old Krouch set a new mark as the oldest Flag football player, man or woman, in the games, and she ranked second among women with 25 touchdown passes at the tournament where USA won silver.

She aims to bring that expertise to the field at the Pro Bowl games, where she’s looking forward to seeing NFL players take on the flag football style type of plays. “Flag is a very finesse, quick game, a lot of footwork, and these guys can’t grab or hold, no downfield contact or downfield block or anything off the line,” she explains. “So it’s going to be exciting just to see skill for skill, footwork for footwork, defense to offense, and to see flag football language with those type of elite athletes.”

As for the biggest challenge, Krouch believes it will be crafting a concise playbook and language that puts everyone on the same page. “A challenge for me is getting a coach’s mindset,” she adds, “I have to actually come up with plays ahead of time and I don’t usually have premeditated plays in my head. I just read it so for me to tell Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith [what to do], it will be different, you know?”

But beyond the Pro Bowl, Krouch is excited that flag is being considered for inclusion as an exhibition sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics. While she’s keeping a hopeful eye on that development, she’s also working to shape the next generation of potential athletes as a physical education teacher at La Villita Elementary in Irving, Texas.

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

“It’s an honor to be a role model – for other youth flag football players, for my students, both boys and girls,” says Krouch. “Then at my campus and in my community, it’s amazing to be able to break the barrier of like, ‘Asian women can’t do this.’ And then to be at my age, still doing this, I feel very lucky and blessed. …I think I still got some years in me.”

As for what she hopes viewers and fans walk away with after watching the Pro Bowl flag games this weekend, Krouch feels confident folks will walk away enlightened by the show.

“I just hope that they have fun with it,” says Krouch. “And for those who don’t know flag to be like, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing. Maybe that’s something I really can get my son or daughter into at a young age.’ So I just hope that they see that the sport is real – it’s not just something we play at recess. It’s a real thing now. I think they’ll see that the world loves it, the world can play it and is playing it.”

Be sure to check back with On Her Turf later this week when we catch up with AFC coordinator and Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team quarterback Diana Flores.  

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Paula Moltzan talks first World Cup podium, being Mikaela Shiffrin’s teammate and unconventional path to the U.S. Ski Team