20 travel grants funded to adaptive skiers for historic competition

With the support of Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), the nation’s top adaptive Nordic skiers will travel to Ketchum, Idaho to showcase their abilities in the historic Zions Bank 2022 Boulder Mountain Tour on February 5, 2022. To build the field of participating athletes, CAF has funded over 20 individual travel grants as well as providing a prize purse for each adaptive division. In addition to the high-level competition for elite athletes, a handful of development skiers will participate in a training camp leading up to the race. A worldwide leader in adaptive sports, CAF is supporting first-time competitors to elite skiers competing in one of the last domestic races before the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Games.

“We are thrilled to see our mission in action at a competitive race like Boulder Mountain Tour where our athletes can showcase their spirit and strength,” said US Para-Nordic Coach and CAF Program Manager Wilson Dippo. “One of the biggest development hurdles faced by US Para Nordic Skiing is the lack of inclusive events to train and compete in. By removing financial and logistical barriers, CAF is creating interest to try new sports like Para Nordic and providing the ways to participate.”

Taking place one month before Beijing Paralympics, The Boulder Mountain Tour in Idaho’s Wood River Valley is one of the premier Nordic marathon races in the United States. In its 49th year, the race attracts hundreds of world-class skiers each year from across the country in a highly anticipated celebration of cross-country skiing where participants race in a 15km or 34km point to point tour along the Harriman Trail in the Sawtooth National Forest. Throughout the race’s history, the Wood River Ability Program has brought dozens of adaptive races to the event and this year has joined forces to support CAF in paving the way to include the largest field of adaptive Nordic skiers in the event’s history.

A leader in the growth of adaptive winter sports, CAF supports extensive grant funding, inclusive skiing events and adaptive ski camps and clinics. The inclusive programs create a continuum from entry into sport up to elite competition while strengthening the Paralympic pathway and adaptive sports community.

Today, there are more than 21 million Americans with a physical disability, many of whom are eligible to compete in Paralympic sports. However, high costs of adaptive sports equipment and lack of resources can be barriers to entry for individuals with physical challenges to remain active. CAF is focused and committed to supporting athletes with physical challenges with equipment and a supportive community to enhance their lives through sport. CAF-Idaho has been made possible by the generosity of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.


CAF Athlete Spotlight

Dani Aravich (Eagle, ID) – Born without her left hand and forearm has never stopped Dani Aravich from realizing her destiny as a competitive athlete. She was a D-1 cross country and track and field athlete, then competed in the 400m in the 2020 Paralympic Games. Through her training, Dani caught the attention of a U.S. Paralympic Nordic Ski coach and is currently training on the U.S. Para Nordic Team with her sights set on the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing.

Lera Doederlein, 18 (San Diego, CA) – Lera was born in Russia with a severe condition that affects joints in her legs. She was adopted and moved to the US before she was 2 years old. At age 14, she made the decision to have a bilateral above-knee amputation and was quickly introduced to adaptive sports. Lera became a multisport adaptive athlete and now competes on the US Women’s Developmental Sled Hockey Team and is also on the CAF Women’s Handcycling Team. Most recently, Lera has added Nordic skiing and Biathlon to her repertoire. After meeting Paralympic gold medalist Oksana Masters, Lera was inspired to take up the sport. She has made incredible progress and hopes to make the 2022 Beijing Games in both sports.

Josh Sweeney (Boise, ID) – In 2009 while deployed to Afghanistan in the Marine Corps, Josh Sweeney stepped on an IED, triggering a blast that result in the loss of both of his legs. Five years later, this Purple Heart recipient led the United States to gold in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Not straying far from the ice, Josh is now stepping into the world of Nordic skiing. Alongside CAF-Idaho Development Coach Wilson Dippo and other Idaho-based athletes, he completed the Boulder Mountain Tour in 2021.

Ruslan Reiter, 22 (Manchester, Maine) – Adopted from an orphanage in Russia and born with an underdeveloped right arm, Ruslan was introduced to skiing for the first time when he was 12 years old. In his first Nordic race he was noticed by an Olympic skier and coach who recommended him to Team USA. He has been on the team since 2017 and competed in the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics.

Grace Miller, 22 (Palmer, Alaska) – Grace was born in China missing her left forearm. When she was 3 years old, she was adopted by an Alaskan ski coach. Miller’s childhood was full of outdoor ambitions, both on and off the snow, and she was part of the Nordic skiing team in middle school and high school. While attending a clinic for physically impaired cross-country skiers, she met a U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing development coach and realized her dreams of competing at an elite level were attainable. Her first Paralympic debut was at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games before she went off to her first year of college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Drew Shea, 22 (Bozeman, MT) – On a whim, Drew, a University of South Carolina student attended a dryland US Paralympic Nordic Junior Development camp in Lake Placid in 2020. He had never tried Nordic skiing before and the following winter he skied in his first World Cup in Slovenia. A single arm amputee, Drew is one to watch for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Bryan Price (Casper, WY) – Retired Army Staff Sergeant Bryan Price was nominated to the 2014 Paralympic Team without having ever been on the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team. Bryan served in the United States Army for 7 years and after sustaining a spinal cord injury from an IED while serving in Afghanistan, he took a medical leave in 2007. He took up para-nordic skiing at age 32 and is a two-time Paralympian in biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Willie Stewart (Boise, ID) – In 1980, a construction accident resulted in Willie’s left arm being ripped out of its socket. Only a few short years after losing his arm, the former all-state wrestler captained the Washington Rugby Football Club and turned that experience into a catalyst that launched him into the world of extreme and endurance sports. Willie’s sports resume includes winning the Catalina Marathon overall, completing the IRONMAN and Xterra world championships, and winning a Paralympic medal in cross country skiing. Willie is also a 15-time Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon finisher and record holder, a 10-time Leadville 100 mountain bike finisher, a two-time finisher of the grueling HURT (Hawaii Ultra Running Team) 100 mile run in Honolulu and has kayaked the Grand Canyon with one arm. Willie serves as a spokesperson and advocate for Challenged Athletes Foundation and plays a key role in mentoring and facilitating events for adaptive athletes.

If you are a member of the media and would like to obtain b-roll or onsite interviews of the CAF athletes competing in the Boulder Mountain Tour, please contact Christy Fritts at [email protected].