The Double Debut Hopeful
Dani Aravich On Her Paralympic Goals
Backcountry partners with the National Ability Center (NAC) around our shared mission of breaking down barriers to the outdoors. Based in Park City, Utah, the NAC empowers individuals of all abilities from across the globe through outdoor recreation. To support their work, we feature stories about adaptive athletes and serve as an outfitter of NAC athletes and guides.
Dani Aravich is attempting to do what few athletes before her have done: double debut in the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games only six months apart. The postponement of the 2020 Summer Games forced Dani—who was born without her left hand and forearm—to wait a season before attempting to qualify for the Summer Games in the 400M run.
Before her paralympic track and field goals, Dani pursued the Nordic biathlon, combining Nordic skiing and shooting, after volunteering with the NAC in the Nordic Program. In 2019, she relocated to Bozeman, MT to train with the Paralympic National Nordic Ski Team in hopes of representing the U.S. in the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games. We chatted with Dani about her progression through two difficult disciplines and what it means to have a double debut.
Tell us how you started volunteering with the National Ability Center (NAC).
I first learned about the National Ability Center when I was working for the Utah Jazz at a networking event. I reached out and introduced myself to the NAC, and let them know that I was interested in assisting the organization however I could. I was trained as an adaptive alpine instructor assistant, and eventually volunteered for the Nordic program as well!
You were (naturally) disappointed by the 2020 Summer Paralympics getting postponed. Are you hyped for another shot in 2021?
Hyped, yes! Nervous, yes! Trials are fast approaching—they begin June 17—and the pressure is getting real. This year, despite everything going on, has flown by.
You have a background in long-distance and endurance running, but because of your classification for Paralympics track and field, you’ll have to transition to shorter events. What are some of those events that you’re training for?
In my classification for Paralympic track and field (T47), we are able to compete for the Games in the short-distance 100, 200, and 400M races. I ran distance in college, so switching over to sprints was a new world—almost a completely new sport. I hope to represent the United States at Tokyo in the 400M.
In addition to the Summer Games, you’re also training for the 2022 Winter Paralympics. How common is it to compete in both seasons? And how typical is it to debut in both at the same time?
Several athletes on our Nordic racing team represent the United States for summer sports as well. Oksana Masters started out in rowing, and now she competes in cycling. Kendall Gretsch is a triathlete, and Aaron Pike competes in wheelchair racing.
I wouldn’t say it’s common to qualify for both Games; there have been only a few other athletes to do so in Paralympic history. To debut within the same Games cycle for both summer and winter is even less common. And with the delay of the Tokyo Games, this could be debuting for both within less than a year.
With the Summer and Winter Games now only six months apart from each other, how have you adapted your training regime to prepare for both?
This has been the greatest challenge I have faced thus far. I spent the entirety of my winter focused on Nordic skiing, which went really well, and I was even able to represent the United States in the World Cup Games this past March. My final ski competition for the season was during the last weekend of March, but my first track meet was the second weekend in April, so a quick turnaround.
I got back on the track and got to work, and since the second weekend in April, I have raced almost every single week. Skiing has moved into my purview, and while I will still pick up my rifle every few days for dry fire, I’m shifting all of my workouts towards track. I did take a week to head up to Bend, OR on one of my off weeks and hopped back on the snow.
With pandemic restrictions lifting, are you able to return to training as you used to? Are there any adaptations that you’ll stick with going forward?
Some things are returning to normal. For example, at our ski camp we’re able to gather without masks if we are vaccinated. There are still some rules at gyms, and track meet organizers are still taking certain precautions. I do miss lifting at a gym, but I have discovered that I can still get a quality workout at home. If I’m on the road or in a pickle, I can work out at home.
Who are some athletes that you look up to, either in cross-country or in track and field?
I’m truly inspired by my teammates Kendall Gretsch and Oksana Masters. They’re extremely talented, motivated, and selfless individuals. As mentioned previously, they’re both summer and winter Paralympians and have managed to be very successful while juggling two sports.
In track and field I admire Allyson Felix, who broke barriers in the sport.
What are your three favorite things in your gear closet right now and why?
Since I’m in the midst of track season, my favorite things include my Nike Pegagsus running shoes (I also have the trail running version). Since the weather is warming up, I’m always running in sports bras and spandex! Lastly, hiking season is right around the corner so that means dusting off my hiking boots and breaking out the Camelback.
What are you most excited about with your move to Montana and what will you miss about Utah?
I’m so pumped to move to Montana, as it has always been a special place to my family. I’m happy that I’ll be able to remain in the Rocky Mountains, yet I’ll have the opportunity to explore a new area of the West. Utah was my home for the past three years, and it was the best life decision I’ve ever made.
I’m going to miss driving south to Moab for a summer weekend, exploring all of the many hiking trails within the Cottonwood Canyons, and having some of the best bike trails around Park City. But most of all, I will miss the wonderful people I met (and some of the great microbreweries).