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

Allie Johnson of Team United States competes in the Para Alpine Skiing Women's Super-G Standing during day two of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics.
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“Ski like a girl.” It’s the four-word motto that serves as both motivation and mantra for Paralympic alpine racer Allie Johnson, who’s making her debut for Team USA at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing.

“That means that I’m skiing really fast,” said Johnson, who also writes the words on her glove so that she literally has them at her fingertips, “that I’m overcoming so much injury and people thinking that girls can’t be competitive in sport. It’s just really one of my big mantras for whenever I’m doubting myself, I can look at my glove that says, ‘Ski like a girl,’ or look at my glove that says, ‘Actually, I can,’ and remind myself of how tough I really am.”

The words have been especially important to Johnson, who was born without a right forearm and will compete in four events in Beijing. She’s already completed the super-G, where she finished 14th, and the super combined (DNF), with the giant slalom and slalom to come.

Johnson’s hand-decorated gloves have become a signature trademark for the Chicago native, who began giving them as gifts to friends. She’s made personalized gloves marked with significant song lyrics for teammates and even decorated one for fellow U.S. para alpine athlete and mentor Danelle Umstead in honor of Umstead’s foundation, Sisters in Sports. Currently, Johnson is working on a glove for an Australian Paralympian that will match her speed suit – and she’s trading it for one of the Aussie’s pins.

“It really actually started with my friend – I sent my right glove to him, because I only need the left one,” she told On Her Turf. “So then it just kind of started to be a really cool thing that I get to do.”

As for the pin trading, the 27-year-old Johnson calls the time-honored Paralympic tradition “out of this world.”

“I never thought anything of the pin game,” she said. “And now it’s one of my favorite things to do.”

Just four years ago, the idea of being at the Paralympics – let alone pin trading – was a pipedream for Johnson, who got into ski racing through the seemingly nonchalant suggestion of a coworker.

MORE PARALYMPICS COVERAGE: Skiing in a skirt, Sheina Vaspi sends message in Paralympic debut

Not long after graduation from Colorado State, where she earned her degree in 2017 with a double major in human development/family studies and Spanish studies, Johnson was working at the National Sports Center for the Disabled with now coach Scott Olson. Although she had been skiing since she was 4 years old – and was working at NSCD as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor – it wasn’t until Olson encouraged her to try racing that she gave it a thought.

“[He] asked me, ‘Why not?’” Johnson told media in Beijing. “I had just graduated and did not have much direction. It was the best non-answer I’ve ever had.”

But her newfound passion for ski racing met the sport’s painful reality in Canada in February 2020, when she crashed during a training run for her first-ever downhill race and broke her left tibia and fibula. The injury, which Johnson calls “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” required surgery, six days in the hospital and cut her season short, but it only served to crystalize her Paralympics dream.

“I had only been racing for about a year and a half, so it would have been really easy for me to just be like, ‘Okay, this isn’t a sport for me.’ I really didn’t go that direction’ though,” she recalled. “When I was in the hospital, I really got to realize how much I absolutely love this sport and I absolutely love what I do.”

Johnson admitted she does have anxiety about her injury, but she credits a healthy mix of therapy – physical and emotional – for helping her get back into the start gate. And while Johnson won’t be sporting her decorated gloves in Beijing (her competition poles require a special glove), she is wearing two items that remind her why she’s racing: a bracelet that says “JFS” – “just frickin’ ski” – and a bright pink helmet.

“Sometimes you get a little mental about your process,” she said. “It’s just skiing, and it’s supposed to be fun. And I know how to do it. It just reminds me to let my body do what it knows how to do.”

Johnson said she hopes to use her platform in Beijing as an example that both empowers and inspires kids watching from home.

“I think being here, and being able to show other disabled kids, hopefully, that are watching at home, ‘Okay, these tough women are doing these amazing, crazy sports, they’re hurling themselves down the side of a mountain at 60 miles an hour – if they can do that, so can I,’” she said. “Hopefully, that will inspire a new generation.”

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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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

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
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.