Originally published in September 2016 during the Rio 2016 Parlaympic Games.
I had the opportunity to share a conversation with Alana Nichols, a decorated athlete in the world of Paralympic sports. She competed in the finals in para-canoeing. Her third Paralympic sport, besides wheelchair basketball and skiing.
Ish: How are you feeling after your race?
Alana: I feel great. I feel a part of history. I feel accomplished in making it to the final and having my best race in Rio. It wasn’t my best race ever, but considering the challenges I have had leading up to the games, it’s a great relief to get a good race under my belt.
Ish: What kind of challenges did you have?
Alana: I slipped a disk in my neck about two months ago, that pretty much put pressure on my C6 nerve path down my right arm. I had to take four weeks off. At the peak time when I was starting to taper, it set me back endurance and strength-wise. That was absolutely frustrating but something I had to deal with day by day. I built up as much as I could getting here to finish 7th in the world today, I am happy with it.
Ish: How did you feel going into the race?
Alana: I woke up this morning 4:55am. I was here at Lagoa, on the water sitting on the dock just in awe of what was happening today and a tear ran down my face. I mean it’s an incredible thing to be part of. So going in to the race, I had a smile on my face. I knew that this was bigger than the finish. To be a part of something so big, making history with para-kayak was so special to me.
Ish: Two new sports were introduced to the Paralympic Games this year: triathlon and para-canoe. What do you think about the progress that’s been made in the Paralympics since the beginning. What do you think is next for the Paralympic Games?
Alana: It’s constantly evolving. This year is the biggest year for media and awareness, especially in the United States. I hope that we continue to make progress in the right direction in terms of mainstreaming disabled sports. I think the UK’s Channel 4 coverage set the stage for adequate coverage for the Paralympics. I am hoping the United States follows it soon! And we celebrate our Paralympians and the accomplishments we are making just as much as we celebrate Olympians.
Ish: Do you believe media here has responsibility in helping create that awareness in addition to simply covering the games, such as creating educational materials to help them follow the games easier? What can the media do to make it better next time?
Alana: I think Mpower has done an incredible job! There are so many people who wanted to watch the games but didn’t know how to. Mpower Sports Fan Guide was my go-to for spreading the word about the 2016 Paralympic games. So many people on the other end receiving it, thankful of how easy it was to use and how they can navigate their way to watching me compete. Bigger athletes with bigger social media followings we put the right tools in their hands and spread the word, we can really create from a grassroots level a following for the Paralympics Games. Everything that you guys are doing, everything that NBC has done and will continue to do. We will make progress. But I want more though. I am not going settle for any less.
Ish: The question everyone has in mind for you is ‘How does she do it?’ Everyone is curious to know how can one person be so skilled and successful in so many sports all at once?
Alana: You know I was born with a little bit of child-like faith in myself and in the world. There has been a lot of challenges in the path, but everyday I’ve made progress towards those goals, whether it’s an inch progress, I keep pushing. It’s amazing to see — regardless of how long it really takes — anything is possible.
Ish: And that mindset pushes you to train hard every day and enables you to be open to new opportunities. You decided one day that you wanted to take part in para-canoeing and signed up for it. Because… why not?
Alana: Yeah, why not! Two years ago I didn’t know this was possible. That’s why I wanted to do it. That reach, the challenge is what I love about it. Seeing if I can do it has been the greatest joy in this process. My mantra is “be the best you can with what you have” every day. There were days at 6am that I didn’t want to wake up and go train, but I continued to remind myself of that mantra. The culmination of those efforts is what got me in to Rio and got me into the finals and put me in the 7th place today. I am happy with it.
Ish: When you were first introduced to wheelchair basketball you didn’t think it would become a lifelong journey for you, did you? In fact, you didn’t enjoy it at the beginning because it was tough to hit the rim from the chair. Then, you saw other wheelchair basketball athletes playing really well and that inspired you to get involved and become one of the best players in the world. Do you think that you are inspiring other people to get involved in sports? Do you ever think of those days earlier in your sports career when you are competing now and think of those whom you might be helping get started?
Alana: Absolutely! That’s my why! That is exactly my why. That young girl needs to see me doing it. That motivates me every day. Women that I see getting their education or going for the gold — these are the girls that changed my life- I want to be that girl for someone else now.
Ish: I’m sure you already are a role model to so many young athletes. So, what’s next for Alana Nichols?
Alana: I’m going surfing Saturday!
Ishel: Perfect! Thank you for your time for the interview, congratulations on your hard work to get here and best of luck in your endeavors.