Alpine skier Danelle Umstead can hit speeds greater than 70 miles per hour when she competes. But unlike her peers, Umstead can't see a thing while she's hurtling toward the finish line. She is blind, but she hasn't let that slow her down in her quest for gold.
Umstead has a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which caused her to lose all vision in her right eye by the age of 13 as well as the central vision in her left eye when she was 27. She began spiraling into depression until one day she got a phone call from her father that changed her life.
"Through this hard time ... my father calls me up on the phone, and he says, 'We're going skiing,'" Umstead said in an interview with CNN. "We went down the mountain, and my life changed from that moment forward."
More than just a guide on the slopes
Initially, Umstead's father served as her guide on the slopes, skiing in front of her and giving her instructions as they made their way down the mountain. But a few years later, she met the man who would not only become her year-round guide, he would also become her husband.
Rob and Danelle Umstead married in 2008 and have a 10-year-old son named Brocton. Fittingly, their wedding was held at the top of a slope and the couple skied their way to the bottom when the ceremony was over. Rob and Danelle have been skiing together ever since, communicating via Bluetooth headphones in their helmets so that Rob can tell Danelle what he sees on the slopes. The pair have competed at every World Championship event since 2011 as well as the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, where Danelle took home two bronze medals and in Sochi, Russia, where she added another bronze to her collection.
Another diagnosis, another chance to rise above it
Umstead and her guide dog, Aziza. (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
In between the Olympic Games in Vancouver and Sochi, Umstead was faced with another setback. After waking up feeling completely numb on her right side, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "I had to learn how to walk again ... I had to learn how to ski again," Umstead told CNN. But she did just that, fighting her way back to the sport she knew and loved.
"I didn't start living my life until I started sport," said Umstead. "And sport has given me the life that I love and enjoy."
Danelle Umstead, guided by her husband Rob, will compete at this year's Paralympic Winter Games in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and super combined alpine skiing events. You can watch them in action in the video below: