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.
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.
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