Somerset's Meghan Erickson hopes to ski in 2014 Paralympics in Russia
How many athletes get the chance to compete in the Olympics?
Alpine skier Meghan Erickson is working toward that dream. Erickson is hoping to be part of the United States team that skis in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The Paralympics are held at the site of the Olympics, two weeks after the completion of the Olympics.
Erickson, a sophomore at Somerset High School, has been competing nationally in alpine skiing since she was 10 years old. Now 16, Erickson just completed her 2011-12 season by skiing in the U.S. Adaptive Alpine Speed Nationals as a member of the U.S. national team.
"For my first year on the (national) team, I'm pretty happy with how the year went. Hopefully, I'll do even better next season," she said.
Erickson was born with "amniotic band syndrome, so the amniotic sac ruptured and string like bands wrapped around all four of my limbs." That led to her leg being amputated at the knee when she was six months old. She has a complete femur, but no kneecap, in her right leg. She is considered a standing skier, skiing on one leg with two outriggers. There are also divisions for sitting skiers and visually impaired skiers in the adaptive competitions.
Erickson began skiing when she was 7 years old. The next year, she began skiing competitively. Lisa Gacek from Courage Center St. Croix was her coach with the Trollhaugen Ski Area Adaptive Team. Erickson showed an immediate aptitude for the sport and has been skiing at the national level the past seven years.
Erickson won junior division national championships twice and has now moved up to the adult divisions. She started this season by taking six bronze medals in a meet at Copper Mountain in Colorado in December. In January, Erickson skied in the 2012 U.S. Adaptive Alpine National Championships in New Hampshire, taking third place.
During the final week of March she competed in the U.S. Adaptive Alpine Speed Nationals at Aspen, Colo., where she placed second overall in the female division. She finished behind Heather Mills. You might recognize that name. Mills is the ex-wife of Paul McCartney and her story was highly publicized when she competed on "Dancing With The Stars" in 2007.
The March trip to Colorado was a major step in Erickson's skiing experience. It was the first time she competed in the downhill and Super G events. This is a huge difference in several ways. These races are held on mountains much larger than any available in Wisconsin. Erickson practices these whenever she has a chance to ski in Colorado and other areas with larger mountains. She said the speed of these races is much faster than the giant slalom races in which she is most experienced.
It also requires a much longer ski, which is vastly more difficult to handle. Erickson said her slalom ski comes up to her nose, but the downhill ski "seems about nine feet long."
Erickson spent the final week in March competing in Aspen, then skiing in a fundraising event in Vail, Colo. She also got significant practice time. She said she was able to improve her time in the Super-G and downhill races by 40 seconds through the practice time she got that week.
Erickson is the daughter of Bill and Angie Erickson of Somerset. She is the youngest of the national team members. She has grown up around the team and considers the older members of the team as her mentors. She now travels alone to the numerous ski events.
Because Erickson is still in school, she can't compete in every race. She said that next year she will need to ski in more races to accumulate top finishes that will help her qualify for the Paralympics.
She misses several weeks of school during the winter. When she got back from her trip in March, she had 16 assignments waiting to be completed. She has been able to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.
"My teachers give me work ahead of time. They're really supportive of what I'm doing," Erickson said.
During the off-season Erickson works on her core strength to stay in condition for skiing. She does a great deal of biking and lifting weights to stay in shape. She also was a member of the Somerset volleyball team, playing as a defensive specialist on the junior varsity team.
"My goal is to make the varsity by my senior year," she said.
The Olympics and Paralympics are planned together by the International Olympic Committee.
The Paralympics are scheduled from March 7-16, 2014 in Sochi. The Olympics will run from Feb. 7-23, 2014. Sochi is located on the Black Sea and is Russia's largest resort city.
Because there is a substantial cost for Erickson to compete in the 2014 Paralympics, two fundraisers have been planned to help cover her costs. The first is a spaghetti dinner from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, at the Somerset American Legion. The dinner fee is $10. There will be door prizes, 50/50 drawings and game boards available.
The second fundraiser is a raffle, with the drawing scheduled for July 15. Raffle tickets can be purchased at the Somerset American Legion. Erickson's family will be selling raffle tickets at the New Richmond Wal-mart from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday. There are a number of items in the raffle including a dual recumbent bike, a Browning 30.06 rifle, a Vizio 47-inch high definition television, and a George Foreman Grill and $200 of meat.
Anyone seeking more information on the events or is seeking to make a donation to Erickson's fund drive can contact Jacquie Smith at 715-386-9630.