We were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Staci Mannella, a Paralympic skier and former athlete with the EDD Memorial Fund. Staci, a junior at Dartmouth, graciously took the time to talk with us about her experience with the EDD program as well as her life as a Paralympian. Staci was born with achromatopsia, a rare genetic disease that affects her eyesight causing light sensitivity, bad visual acuity, and color blindness. Despite her visual impairment, Staci has thrived in the ski world. Though her parents got her involved in various other sports, skiing was the sport that took hold when she was four years old and became an activity they could all do as a family. After catching the eye of ski coaches at the Windham Adaptive Sports Foundation in New York, Staci realized that the dream of becoming a Paralympian was a realistic goal. At the age of twelve, she began working with a guide with whom she would race with. To race with a guide, the guide goes down the course first, communicating with the athlete via blue chip microphones about when to turn, what the conditions are like and what path to take in order to get the athlete down the mountain as safely, and as quickly, as possible. Staci emphasized how important the relationship between athlete and guide is. For Staci to get down the mountain safely, she has to completely trust her guides judgment and communication, a task that is not easy in a fast paced sport like ski racing. Staci also commented on how the relationship between the athlete and the guide changes the sport. Skiing is normally an individual sport, but with a guide the sport becomes a team effort, with both working towards a common goal. Staci says having her guide benefitted her greatly when she was younger by pushing her to become a better athlete and to rigorously pursue the dream of becoming a Paralympian.
When talking to Staci about her experience in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, she told us it was an opportunity like no other. After years and years of training and sacrificing her time, she had finally achieved her ultimate skiing goal. Being able to ski in the same races as athletes she admired as a young skier was surreal. She firmly believes that the experience in Sochi change her perspective since she began training for the games so young. She found herself questioning what she wanted to do next since she had arrived at the destination she had been seeking since she was twelve. She admits it was a little overwhelming but then set her sights on the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in Pyongchang, South Korea and returned to training. It amazed us how often she trains and the dedication it took for her to get to where she is today. We could not stop asking about how Staci managed to balance life as a college student at Dartmouth and life as a professional athlete. We are student athletes ourselves but not Olympians and could not fathom how rigorous the training must be on top of everything else going on in her life!
While reflecting on her training and the incredible feats she has accomplished, Staci shared with us how important the EDD Fund has been throughout her life. The EDD Fund has been a huge supporter of the Adaptive Sports Foundation and Staci’s journey to the Paralympics. She expressed her gratitude for being able to be a part of a program as rewarding as the EDD Fund. Staci emphasized how incredible it was to see the program giving so many athletes the opportunity to be involved in adaptive sports and pushing them to do whatever they believe they can do.