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 Diane, 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, from 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 traditional Olympic Games end, and like them, will last two weeks.
Diane, who moved to Maine from Delaware in 2003, began volunteering at MAS and became program director two years later. She also took on the role of recruiting skiers for the MAS 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,’” Diane 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,” Diane said.
So she tried her hand at guiding. “We kind of clicked,” she said.
Lindsay started making excellent progress. Diane 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,” said Diane.
Through the next five years, the two continued to race together in adaptive skiing races, as Lindsay 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, Lindsay made the U.S. National Team. That’s when the upcoming Sochi Paralympics become a realistic goal, Diane said.
Last October, Diane and Lindsay relocated their center of training to Winter Park, Colo., which has the most developed competition program in the country. Lindsay was still in college.
“She kept flying back and forth,” said Diane. Lindsay graduated in December, and turned her attention full time to training.
Disaster nearly struck at the end of December, when Lindsay feel and tore an ACL. 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,” said Diane. “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 GS, Lindsay’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, said Diane.
“We’re going to Sochi!” she said.