As a junior in high school, Lera Doederlein is already making headway in two elite sports- sled hockey and Nordic skiing. But sports weren’t always front and center in her life.
Born in Russia, Doederlein was adopted when she was around two years old and came to the United States. She had a condition that affected both legs and was using full-length braces that went up to her hips as well as crutches for mobility. “A lot of the struggles that came with my life were walking, trying to find activities that really suited me, and doing things I could do confidently without worrying if it was going to be hard for me. Having that immobility was really tough for me when I was young.”
When Doederlein was 14, she underwent amputation of her legs to ultimately help improve her mobility and gain some independence. “I wanted to be able to do the things I really wanted to do.”
Until then, Doederlein didn’t know about adaptive sports. “I wasn’t very involved in sports up until I had my amputations.” She started walking three or four months after recovering from her surgery. “Right away, a month after walking, I was at my local Hanger clinic and was offered to try out sled hockey. I just fell in love with the sport.”
She started out playing with the Phoenix Coyotes, an adult team. “As soon as I hit the ice I describe it as it was like I was flying. It was the epitome of independence and happiness for me and really brought out a part of me that I hadn’t really figured out yet.”
“Even now, after trying out many sports, that was when I realized I could do so much more with my life. For me, sled hockey gives me drive and passion.”
Currently, Doederlein plays on two teams, the San Diego Ducks is her home club team and this is the second year that she has been a member of the National Women’s Sled Hockey Team. “It is not only a team sport where you have this whole community that gives you support and camaraderie but it also challenges me to learn new things. You are always falling down and picking yourself up and that is just another part of me finding my independence and strength.” She also loves the fast-paced feeling of the sport. “As a forward (the position she plays), you are always moving towards the net- it is exhilarating!”
In addition to playing sled hockey, she has recently taken on another sport as well. While attending a cycling clinic, she was introduced to multi-sport Paralympic medalist Oksana Masters. “As soon as I met her, she encouraged me to try para Nordic,” Doederlein said. “I finally gave in.” Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing is a sport that Masters has won multiple medals in, including two gold medals. Doederlein would try Nordic skiing for the first time in 2019 at Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado. She would then go to a race and fell in love with it.
After that race, she was invited to train with the Cross Cut Mountain Sports Center Elite Team in Bozeman, Montana, which serves as the homebase for the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Ski Team. “It has been a year since I’ve started skiing and I’ve made so much progress already.” Although the pandemic has been tough, because she hasn’t been able to travel as much to practice or compete.
Although there is a team element to Nordic skiing, it is an individualized sport as well. “You get to compete against other people, but you are also competing against yourself to become a better athlete every day.”
Nordic skiing, like sled hockey, also provides Doederlein with the feeling of flying. “Gliding through the snow on a fast downhill and you catch some speed- it doesn’t matter what else is going on in the world, to me that is all the excitement that I would ever hope for.”
Both sports, sled hockey and Nordic skiing, are really demanding but Doederlein hopes to use each as a cross-training opportunity. “I’ve only been an adaptive athlete for a few years and would love to go to the Paralympics in both sports.”
In addition to her athletic pursuits, she plans to go to college and possibly study engineering. She would be interested in making prosthetics or orthotics. “The technology is so interesting and to see the progress in that field has been amazing. I can do anything. It just takes some adaptation.”