Allison Kunkel becomes Steamboat Springs’ first Paralympian
February 21, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Allison Kunkel has added her name to a long list — a list that includes 96 Olympic athletes that claim ties to Steamboat Springs.
"I'm just super honored to represent Steamboat," Kunkel said Tuesday. "I hope that other people with disabilities, especially in Steamboat, can see what they are capable of doing."
Kunkel will become Steamboat’s first Paralympic athlete. She leaves for Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2018 Winter Paralympic Winter Games on March 3. She’ll compete in the downhill on March 10, the super-G on March 11, the super combined March 13, the slalom on March 15 and the giant slalom on March 18.
"My favorite is slalom — it's a blast. That's what I grew up skiing, and it's always been my thing, my specialty,” Kunkel said. “When I found out that I was going to be racing in all the events, it was a big shock. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Kunkel, who was ranked third on the American women’s team, was expecting to be named to compete in South Korea but admits she didn’t think she would get five opportunities to race and bring home a medal.
She is one of seven women who will represent the U.S. at the Paralympics and one of 23, including four guides, who will compete in the Alpine events.
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The 2018 Paralympic Winter Games feature 670 athletes from 80 countries and will take place March 9 to 18. Events include Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice hockey, snowboarding and curling.
"I think I just continued to work hard and stayed positive this season," Kunkel said of why she believes she was named to the U.S. Team. "I've just had the attitude that whatever happens, happens. This happened for a reason and so I'm super happy."
Kunkel is currently in Aspen training with the U.S. Paralympic Team. She will return to Steamboat Springs for a few days next week before boarding a plan and heading to Pyeongchang. She said the team will arrive March 4, and she’ll have a few days to get used to her surroundings and train before the competition begins.
"I looking forward to just competing and experiencing new cultures," Kunkel said. "I guess just live for the experience."
It will be the first time Kunkel, a junior at Steamboat Springs High School, has traveled to that part of the world. For Kunkel, being named to the team is part of a dream that was sparked when she first started ski racing at age 3.
“She was born with an underdeveloped right arm due to a congenital limb condition know as dysmelia, but she has never let that slow her down,” said her father Larry Kunkel, who taught his daughter to ski.
She eventually got involved with competitive skiing after a coach at Wilmot, a small ski area in Wisconsin near where she grew up, noticed her.
“We were not a ski racing family,” Larry said. “So in her first race, we didn't know what to expect.”
But he knew then, when his daughter was 8, that she’d discovered a new love,
“She was eighth out of a group of 50 kids, but in that moment, she realized that she could do this,” he said. “You could see it in her eyes.”
Growing up, Kunkel also played soccer and spent a lot of time on the water wake boarding, wake surfing and water skiing. She was a cheerleader, and she even gave gymnastics a try.
“She wanted to do gymnastics, and I still chuckle about it,” Larry said. “I knew she was not going to be able to do half of the stuff. But we let her try it, why not?”
But Larry said Allison’s passion was always for ski racing.
“We never look at Allison’s circumstances as a disability,” Larry said. “We just look at her as a normal kid going through her life.”