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January 30, 2007 > Deaf skiers train in Reno for Olympic gold

Deaf skiers train in Reno for Olympic gold

By Martha Bellisle

RENO, Nev. (AP), Jan 24 _ Eliminate the wind as it screams past the ears at 50 mph, take away the crunch of the skis' metal edges cutting into the icy snow and turn off the calls of encouragement from coaches and crowds, and the skier is alone.

Alone with a pounding heart, tunnel-vision focus on the posts jutting up from the slope below and burning leg muscles as she tries to direct her body down the race course in as straight a line as possible.

And alone with the knowledge that the past year's worth of workouts, practice runs and painful crashes will be reflected in the next 60 seconds.

During four Alpine ski races next month in Salt Lake City, two Reno women will remove their hearing aids and crouch in a starting gate seeking medals and memories at the 2007 Winter Deaflympics.

Nicole Brill, a 31-year-old mother of two and a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service, and Amanda Goyne, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the only deaf collegiate downhill ski racer in the country, will be among five deaf women representing the United States in competitions against deaf ski racers from around the world.

To be eligible to participate in the Deaflympics, skiers must have a hearing loss of 55 decibels or more. All hearing devices are prohibited during competition to equalize the field of athletes who have varying degrees of deafness.

``I'm nervous, yes,'' said Brill, as she sat in the cafeteria recently at Mount Rose-Ski Tahoe area before heading out for a training session with her coach, Jack Suierveld. ``But I'm also really proud to be going.''

Brill cut back on her work hours to ski four to six days a week, practicing technique, running gates and fine-tuning her form.

Goyne, who trains with the UNR ski team at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort near Donner Summit, took advantage of the winter school break to travel and ski new terrain, including the Deaflympics course used during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

``It's a fun hill, but the top part is really dangerous. It's steep and icy,'' said Goyne, who wears her blond hair in a ponytail under her helmet, and flashes a bright smile.

The two skiers plan to leave Reno at the end of the month and will have several training days on the hill before racing begins Feb. 4 with the men's and women's downhill races. The competitions continue through Feb. 10.

Brill and Goyne lost their hearing when they were young _ Brill at age 1 and Goyne at 3 _ and wear aids to communicate.

``My mom clapped her hands at one point and realized that I couldn't hear her,'' Brill recalled.

But despite that obstacle, Brill began skiing at age 7. Her mother was a ski instructor at a ski hill in Ohio. Brill and her brother spent their time skiing while mom worked.

``The mountain was pretty much our baby sitter,'' Brill said. ``We were so bored, so we would ski down on one ski, ski backward, ski sitting down. Sometimes we would ski down super fast and do a hockey stop and spray the whole crowd with snow.''

When Brill turned 14, her family moved to Aspen, Colo., and she learned what serious skiing was all about.

``I got my first taste of ski racing there,'' she said. ``I remember the Aspen ski school having a 'fun race,' and I won first place three years in a row.''

By her senior year in high school, Brill had earned a full scholarship to the Aspen Ski Club, which her family couldn't have afforded.

In the years that followed, as Brill earned bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, she continued to ski but didn't compete. But one day on the slopes she saw Suierveld skiing, and she decided it was time to get serious again.

``Watching him ski totally inspired me to get back into it,'' she said.

She hired Suierveld, a former USSA Alpine Racing coach, to guide her and began a strict training program.

Goyne strapped on skis about the same time she lost her hearing and began tackling the slopes at Mount Shasta near her parents' home in Redding, Calif.

She started racing at age 8 and has a full ski scholarship at UNR thanks to her skiing talents.

The competition in Salt Lake City will be Goyne's second Deaflympics. She competed four years ago in Sundsvall, Sweden, and took home three medals: gold in women's giant slalom, silver in women's slalom and bronze in women's parallel slalom

She began this racing season competing in Chile and has set her sights for the U.S. Nationals this March in New Hampshire.

While racing in collegiate or national competitions, Goyne can use her hearing aid. But in Salt Lake City, she'll have to go without.

``The hearing aid tends to pick up everything _ the gates, the wind _ so it's loud,'' she said.

Without it, she said, she focuses on the course.

``When you're in a race, you don't think about that,'' she said. ``You just go.''

Of all the Alpine disciplines, Goyne loves slalom the best.

``It's fast, aggressive,'' she said. ``It's a battle.''

Brill fancies the giant slalom, with its sweeping curves.

``It's nice and smooth,'' Brill said.

Suierveld said both skiers bring an amazing spirit to their racing that ensures some level of success in their competitions.

Goyne is so bright and energetic that she attacks the slalom course with a vengeance, he said, while Brill is so strong and stubborn, that she'll stop at nothing to achieve a goal.


On the Net: 2007 Winter Deaflympics:

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