Challenge Aspen athletes excited, honored to compete at NASTAR Nationals in Snowmass
In late January, more than a dozen Challenge Aspen winter athletes and coaches gathered in the Snowmass nonprofit’s upstairs office on the Village Mall.
As they ate their lunches and warmed up before heading back out to the slopes, some talked about achievements on their skis and snowboards that day and of aiming to earn top spots at the Special Olympics Colorado 2020 State Winter Games.
But for seven Challenge Aspen athletes, their sights are set on the NASTAR National Championships, which they qualified for earlier this year.
“It was pretty cool,” said Chris Guay, 40, of qualifying for the NASTAR nationals, which will be held March 24 to 28 in Snowmass. “I’ve been working on just getting better times on the race course this year, I’ve gotten about seven or eight platinums, so I had a pretty good feeling I was going to qualify.”
Challenge Aspen is a Snowmass-based nonprofit that aims to provide year-round adaptive experiences for people faced with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, according to the organization.
Guay, who is from Glenwood Springs, has been skiing competitively with the Challenge Aspen winter sports team for about seven or eight years. And although the Special Olympics Colorado Hall of Fame inductee said he’s excited to compete at NASTAR nationals this year, he’s no rookie.
This will be Guay’s third time competing at the national event, which he said is an honor and is much different than the Special Olympics winter competitions. He said he will compete in the giant slalom and super-G in March, and hopes to secure a podium spot.
“It’s totally different because all of the professionals come out and sign autographs and you meet new people, so it’s just a different atmosphere,” Guay said of NASTAR nationals. “I just hope to go out there and do my best on the race course and I just think it’s a cool atmosphere skiing with the pros and all of my good friends.”
NASTAR, which stands for National Standard Race, is the world’s largest recreational ski and snowboard race program. It aims to allow racers of all ages and abilities a means to compare their race results to other competitors across the country through a handicapping system, regardless of when and where they race, according to the program website.
The website also notes that more than 50,000 racers will compete at 100 resorts across the country to qualify for a spot at the NASTAR National Championships within their age and ability group by March 20.
“This is such a huge, huge accomplishment for these athletes and it reflects in the athletes,” said Shianne Quintana, a coach with Challenge Aspen. “They are radiating.”
Quintana, who is in her first year coaching with Challenge Aspen and worked for a similar adaptive skiing program in Telluride, said she’s seen each athlete improve athletically and emotionally over the past few months as a result of training for the upcoming Special Olympics and NASTAR competitions.
As a coach, she said her goal is to push each athlete as needed to help them achieve their personal goals, and to let them know she’ll always have their back.
“Helping them achieve their goals and allowing people the same opportunity to feel what I feel when I ski is really rewarding,” Quintana said. “I think enabling these athletes to get out and accomplish what they might not normally be able to helps them gain the confidence and courage to try other things. … Challenge Aspen makes goals possible for participants and instructors as well.”
Lauren Jackson, 30, is another one of the NASTAR qualifiers who has gained confidence and grown as an athlete over the past year.
After dislocating her knee cap just before the state Special Olympics winter games and NASTAR Nationals last year, she’s worked hard to get back on track and hopes to earn the first podium spot for giant slalom at nationals this year.
“It was so heartbreaking,” Jackson said of dislocating her knee. “But I’ve just focused on being stronger and I feel through all of my training runs I’ve come back a whole lot stronger.”
Through on- and off-mountain training, good eating and sleeping habits, drinking lots of fluids and taking in all of the coaching tips she’s received over the years, Jackson said she feels better than ever going into state and NASTAR this year.
But although she’s been focusing on her health, Jackson said her races this year aren’t just about her — she’s dedicating all of her 2020 performances to her friend and classmate Sam Coffey, a well-known local skier and Snowmass Village native who died last spring after suffering a series of strokes while on a surf trip in Mexico.
“He was a really good friend and a major skier. … I have his sticker on my helmet,” Jackson said of Coffey. “I decided I would dedicate all of my races to him this year and that just makes me fell a lot stronger than normal.”
Jackson and Guay said they feel honored and excited to compete in NASTAR Nationals, and acknowledged the support of their Challenge Aspen teammates and coaches in helping them qualify.
“Taking in all of the coaching I got last year and in years past I really feel like it’s been a good asset,” Jackson said.
Guay shared similar thoughts, adding that it helps to train as a group.
“It’s a group thing, it helps us compete and get better,” Guay said. “I just want to go out there and do better with my race times and just have a good time with my friends.”
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