FARMINGTON — Imagine skiing quickly down a mountainside wearing blackout goggles and responding to a voice broadcast from a guide in front of you.
It’s terrifying at first, U.S. Paralympic Alpine skier Lindsay Ball, 22, of Benton said recently. She and her guide, Diane Barras of Bethel, are heading to Sochi, Russia, soon as members of the U.S. Paralympic Alpine ski team.
Visually impaired since birth, Ball depends on that voice to guide her through each race. Her classification is totally blind, she said. The goggles block out any light that she can see.
“Now it’s a fun factor, an adrenalin factor. It’s fast and a thrill,” she said of the sport she’s pursued since age 6. “My parents put me in it. It was something I could do like everyone else. Something that made me feel normal.”
It also means trusting and being really in tune to that voice broadcast from a speaker in a backpack worn by Barras, she said. There is a mike in their helmets so they can speak to each other.
“Ski racing is a team sport, a team effort,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without her (Barras).”
The team is training at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo., before heading for Sochi for the March 16 giant slalom race. Ball is the only Maine athlete on the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Ski Team. Competition is on the same courses used in the Winter Olympics, she said.
The two have worked together since some of Ball’s first entry level races. From skiing Sugarloaf and Sunday River, they have attended races all over the country, mostly in the West.
Ball took a season off to attend college in Vermont but came back to the University of Maine at Farmington, she said. She graduated in December, a semester early, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and studies in rehabilitation services.
She credits some “great professors” at UMF who let her take time off to travel two weeks at a time, she said. She was excused from starting the semester last fall on time so they could finish competing in New Zealand and Australia, she said.
“Completing her degree was a priority to Lindsay,” Susan Anzivio, UMF professor of psychology and Ball’s adviser, said in a news release. “Lindsay was an incredibly hardworking student, even as she traveled around the world skiing. She never shied away from any challenge, taking the most difficult courses at UMF while pursuing her athletic dreams.”
Ball said she is looking forward to the paralympic experience, watching other events and taking in everything. Her parents, Kirk and Jill Ball of Benton, will travel to Russia to support her.
“As long as my goal was to go to Sochi, they’ve supported me every step of the way. They wouldn’t miss it,” she said.
Along with skiing, Ball enjoys running and biking. She ran track in high school and has participated in several road races, including the Beach to Beacon. It keeps her active, she said.
She has applied to graduate school to pursue her studies in psychology and counseling. After the Sochi events, she’ll break for ligament reconstruction surgery.
She hasn’t decided on any long-term racing commitments, she said.