Q and A with Two-Time Paralympic Gold Medalist Mary Riddell

Mary Riddell, from Dolores, Colorado, was inducted into the U.S. Disabled Snow Sports Hall in 2017. She began skiing at the age of three at Durango/Purgatory Adaptive Sports and qualified for the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team when she was 14 years old. For the following next nine years Riddell was a dominate figure in national and international competition, winning six Paralympic medals including two Gold. She also won six World Championship medals, two of them Gold. In addition, she won three World Cup Overall Globes, 11 individual event World Cup Globes, and multiple National titles. During the 2000/2001 season, Riddell was on the podium at every World Cup race, which she considers her most successful accomplishment. She was interviewed by Logan Knowles, a member of Disabled Sports USA’s E-Team. The interview took place in December 2017 at the 30th annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Logan: So Mary, what made you become interested in ski racing?

Mary: Well I grew up in a little farming town in Southwest Colorado and there was an adaptive sports center in Durango/Purgatory. My parents were skiers and they took me there to learn how to ski when I was about three, and I happened to run into a woman by the name of Lana Jo Chapin. She was missing her leg below the knee as well and had been on the national team- she would become my coach. I came to my first Ski Spectacular in 1990 and did the Learn to Race camp, and that was it.

Logan: Was there a point that you ever wanted to give up?

Mary: I think everybody has frustrating times but I never wanted to quit, because that would be failing, and I didn’t want to fail.

Logan: What would you say to a young athlete who is thinking maybe they aren’t good enough?

Mary: Ski racing is hard… you picked a hard sport. So it takes a lot of time and effort, but 90% of it is all in your head.

Logan: How did you overcome all of the costs of traveling to all the events?

Mary: Luckily, I always had a good support system of people to help me get to where I need to be when I was a kid and I was going over to Purgatory to train. I would ride with this guy Ross to his nightshift job at a factory and then I get picked up by the next person and the next person and the next person and I’d eventually get there.

Logan: What was the best moment of your ski career?

Mary: The best moment…I knew you were going to ask me that. Hmm… as an athlete, you’re always trying to find that place where you’re confident but you’re also very calm and you just feel perfect. You don’t have butterflies, instead of butterflies you have confidence. Instead of feeling anxious you are calm, but you’re also ready to explode on the inside. I don’t know if you know the name Greg Mannino… he’s an old guy. He was my teammate and I was eating breakfast at the World Championships in Anzere Switzerland, and he came down and sat next to me. He said, “how do you feel about today?” and in between bites of my Honey Nut Cheerios I said, “I’m gonna win” and he said “oh well, alright, go get it.” So fast forward to the run… it’s a Super G and I was still feeling really good. I left the starting gate and about three quarters of the way down the racer in front of me had fallen, so I got flagged off. That’s usually detrimental to any racer because you’re not ready to ride up again and do the run again. So I met with Kevin Jardine, you probably know Kevin or know of him. He met me at the finish line, and the whole way up in the gondola he was trying to get me psyched up and I finally said, “Kevin, it’s fine I’m gonna win” and he’s like “okay.” So I got to the start, and they don’t let anybody else go, until the rerun comes back around and they said “do you need any time?” and I said “oh, five or ten seconds” and the guy’s like “well I guess get in the sliding gate.” Kevin skied down back to his spot and I left the starting gate and I won by 3.26 seconds. Then come full circle and I saw Greg Mannino at the finish line and he’s like “what?” and I said, “I told you I was gonna win.” I raced for like 17 years and that only happened to me one time, so I feel lucky that I was ever able to have that feeling. It’s something you’re always searching for, and, I don’t know what – there must have been stars aligned in the universe that day. So that was the best moment.

Logan: So I take it confidence is a huge key when you start?

Mary: If you tell yourself that you’re gonna fall, then you’re gonna fall. You have to speak kindly to yourself, you know, you can’t beat yourself up.

Logan: Throughout your whole career, has it been worth all the training you’ve been through?

Mary: It was all worth it. Mostly I have made lifelong friends. Sometimes people have asked me “if you could have two legs, would you? I’d say no because I’d probably be a CPA or something- not that being a CPA is bad. I wouldn’t know all these great people.

Mary: If everybody was the same we’d all be boring. Where are you from?

Logan: I am from New York.

Mary: Are you one of those that talks fast and moves fast?

Logan: Nope, I’m upstate.

Mary: A girl that I used to ski race on the team, her name is Jennifer Kelchner and she’s from Cazenovia, and Adam Froma is from Albany, and Dan Cusick is from Binghamton.