Paralympic dreams turn reality for CMU student Heidi Duce
WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD CROSS RESULTS IN SOCHIi
1. Bibian Mentel-Spee, Netherlands
2. Cecile Hernandez Ep Cervellon, France
3. Amy Purdy, United States
5. Heidi Jo Duce, United States
Two years of training and competition paid off huge for Heidi Duce, a Colorado Mesa University senior. The 23-year-old adaptive athlete recently placed fifth in the snowboard cross event at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Russia. She was overseas March 3-18.
“It was the biggest honor ever,” Duce said of being a representative for the United States in the games. “You’re there and everybody is cheering for you. It was amazing.”
Making it to the Paralympics has long been a goal for Duce, who competed in an event new to the games this year. And to make it to Sochi, she made many sacrifices — including time off from school — to train and compete on the adaptive circuit in Colorado’s high country.
Racing in Sochi’s snowboard cross event didn’t go quite as Duce planned however.
“I broke my prosthetic foot two days before the race and I couldn’t get it replaced,” she said. “We cobbled it together, but the day of the race I broke it on a training run.”
Despite a broken foot, falling on her first run and disqualifying on the second run, she still turned it around and finished fifth.
“I obviously didn’t quite finish how I hoped to; I was hoping to do a bit better,” Duce noted, but that just gives her motivation to compete in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “Next time I go, I’m going to have five spare feet with me.”
According to CMU Outdoor Program’s director Chad Thatcher, “on her second run at the (Paralympic) games she was going all out for gold and caught an edge that sent her off course. She would have been on the podium if it were not for that slip. Even so she gathered enough time on her third run to take fifth. We had a big crowd in the Outdoor Program cheering her on at 1 (o’clock) in the morning. We had a blast watching her race down the slopes.”
TURNING DISABILITY INTO ABILITY
Duce — who’s originally from Ouray, Colo. — was born with Fibular Hemilia, a congenital defect where her right leg didn’t fully develop. She was born without a fibula and numerous foot and ankle bones. She’s additionally had two amputations over the years — the first as a toddler and the second within the past few years. The CMU kinesiology major uses a prosthetic leg specially fit for competition.
“Heidi is a true example of one embracing her disability and turning it into pure ability,” Thatcher said. “She brings this spirit and tenacity to the CMU Outdoor Program where she teaches CMU students kayaking, climbing, and participates in every activity we offer from mountain biking and rafting to backpacking internationally through Southern Africa.
“I could not be prouder of her.”
Duce plans to take the summer off from training to “paddle and refocus.” Then next winter she’ll be back on the World Cup circuit, living in Winter Park, Colo., while training with the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
“It’s the biggest adaptive competitive program in the world,” Duce said.
While she’s training, she also hopes to finish school via correspondence from CMU.
“I’m very close to finishing my degree,” Duce said, which has a focus in adaptive physical education.
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Local teams just missed out on qualifying for state as teams but will be sending individual representatives following Friday’s regional meets.