BETHEL — Leading a vision-impaired skier down an Alpine race course at top speed is not for everyone.
But Diane Barras of Bethel has mastered it, and thanks to good teamwork with skier Lindsay Ball, the two are headed to Sochi, Russia, later this month to compete in the Paralympics.
“I know when to push her and when not to,” said Barras, who last fall left her job as Maine Adaptive Skiing program coordinator at Sunday River to help Ball train full-time to make the U.S. Paralympic team.
Last Wednesday, they got the official word that Lindsay, of Benton, was one of nine women to make the squad, comprised of visually-impaired skiers and skiers with other disabilities.
The competition takes place two weeks after the Olympic Games end, and like them, will last two weeks.
Barras, who moved to Maine from Delaware in 2003, began volunteering at Maine Adaptive Skiing and became program director two years later. She also took on the role of recruiting skiers for the Maine Adaptive Skiing competition team.
In 2009, volunteers started telling her about the daring Ball, who was in high school at the time.
“‘You’ve got to meet Lindsay,’” Barras remembers them saying.
“She sees just about nothing. Everyone was a little nervous about keeping her safe. Some of the guides were a little overwhelmed. They weren’t pushing her to ski to her potential,” Barras said.
So Barras tried her hand at guiding. “We kind of clicked,” she said.
Ball started making excellent progress. Barras wore a backpack with a speaker in it, talking Lindsay through slalom and giant slalom race courses.
“She listens not so much to what I say as to where I am,” Barras said.
Through the next five years, the two continued to race together in adaptive skiing events, as Ball graduated from high school and went to college at the University of Maine at Farmington. In the summers, they went to Australia and New Zealand to train.
Two years ago, Ball made the U.S. National Team. That’s when the upcoming Sochi Paralympics become a realistic goal, Diane said.
Last October, Barras and Ball relocated their center of training to Winter Park, Colo., which has the most developed competition program in the country. Ball was still in college.
“She kept flying back and forth,” Barras said. Ball graduated in December, and turned her attention to training full time.
Disaster nearly struck at the end of December, when Ball fell and tore an ACL, a ligament in her knee. The injury did not stop her for long. Her doctor said she could still race with a brace, but would need surgery after Sochi.
“She’s very strong,” Barras said. “It worked out.”
They have scaled back their competition goals, however. Instead of racing in both the slalom and giant slalom, they will only do the giant slalom, Ball’s best event.
The U.S. Olympic Committee is making all the travel arrangements for them as they continue to train.
When they get to Russia, they will stay in the Olympic Village and compete in the same venues and facilities as the Olympic athletes.
The two women are very excited, Barras said.
“We’re going to Sochi!” she said.