Where there’s a Will, there’s a way. When Sarah Will’s world came crashing down around her 12 years ago – Dec. 15, 1988 – on a ski slope in Colorado, she could have succumbed to self-pity. Skiing over a maintenance road, she got her downhill ski stuck in fresh snow, flipped backward and landed on her shoulders. She had broken her spine and lost sensation below the waist.
For a person who had skied since she was 4 years old and become a downhill racer at age 9, life as a paraplegic could have been tantamount to a death sentence. Remember that dynamic girl who was MVP of her nationally ranked Green Mountain College of Vermont ski team? The multi-talented young lady who was an All-County goalie for the Nyack High School girls’ lacrosse team in 1983? The little kid who would scurry to catch up to her four brothers on the ski slopes so she wouldn’t be left behind?
Memories like those, she couldn’t forget. When you suffer catastrophic injury, the temptation to feel sorry for yourself is sometimes overwhelming.
But it did not overwhelm Sarah Will. This was Will’s answer to the cruel hand fate bequeathed to her: “It feels safe in the rehab room, but you have to take a chance and go past your comfort zone. Don’t settle for what’s been handed to you. Instead, have an open mind.”
Where there’s a Will, there’s a way. Once Sarah Will opened her mind to life’s possibilities, fresh vistas spread before her. Adversity was transfigured into opportunity. Today she is an eight-time gold medalist in the Paralympics – the Olympics for people with disabilities – making her one of the most highly decorated American skiers ever. She is regarded as the world’s finest female practitioner of a sport called mono skiing.
A mono-ski consists of a form-fitted seat connected to a ski by an aluminum frame with shock absorbers. For balance, mono-skiers use poles called outriggers that look like crutches with half-skis attached to the bottoms.
One of six children of Albert and Eleanor Will, Sarah, who was born and raised in Valley Cottage, has charted a meteoric ascent through the monoskiing realm. A member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team since 1992, she has the following Paralympic medals to her credit: gold in the Giant Slalom, Slalom and Super G and silver in the Downhill in the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan; gold in the Slalom, Super G and Downhill in the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway; and gold in the Super G and Downhill in the 1992 Games in Albertville, France.
Three months ago, Sarah captured one gold medal, two silvers and a bronze at the 2000 World Championships in Switzerland. Her growing collection includes eight gold medals in World Championship or World Cup competition and 12 golds in the U.S. championships. She also was the U.S. Disabled Ski Team’s Athlete of the Year in 1996.
Sarah is co-founder of the first mono-ski camp for disabled skiers in the country, and serves as a role model for all those must confront obstacles in life. “Skiing is my opportunity to give hope to anyone of any age for anything they want to do in life,” she says.
She is also a mono-ski instructor at ski centers across America, and is a spokeswoman for the General Motors “Barrier Breakers” program for people with disabilities. She was one of the first female off-road wheelchair mountain bike racers, and won the women’s wheelchair division of the Helen Hayes Hospital 10K in 1990, just 16 months after her accident. She also has been featured on television news programs and in truck advertisements in magazines.
Sarah is 35 years old and lives in Vail, Colo. Her current training is geared toward peak performances at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.