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
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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

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.

How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.

Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.

More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.