With her two bronze medals around her neck Stephanie Jallen made her way to the podium where, after a video of some of her highlights played, she recalled her journey from a small town girl to an Olympic champion in an auditorium full of students, parents and coaches. After she was done she took a seat in the front row to watch students claim their awards.
Paralympian Jallen was guest speaker at Lake-Lehman high school’s athletic awards ceremony on Tuesday, May 27. an international star, Jallen is herself a member of the Wyoming Area High School Class of 2014.
As the evening went on coaches and students thanked her every chance they got for taking time out of her day to speak to them, but it wasn’t long ago that Jallen never would have dreamt of getting such attention.
Jallen, 18 of Harding, was born with a rare birth defect called Congenital Hemidysplasia with Ichthyosiform Erythroderma and Limb Defects Syndrome, or CHILDS. It is a chromosomal disorder that affects the entire left side of the body, leaving Jallen with only one leg and one fully developed arm on her right.
Despite her disability Jallen has never allowed that to stop her from doing what she loves since she was first introduced to it at the age of nine: skiing.
“I was invited to a kids camp in Camel Back, mainly just to get physically disabled kids to met others and make friends and be more comfortable with oneself,” said Jallen. “I was comfortable with the scene and it just kind of stuck.”
Recalling how difficult it was, Jallen said she spent “most of my time on my butt.”
She still managed to find a way to learn how to ski with her limitations.
“You have gravity and physics working only the one side with no counteractive, I completely rely on my core and that’s what (my trainer) Ernie (Baul) helped me with, “ said Jallen. “He trained my body to react. I don’t use my right side, it’s where I put my arm and leg that help me turn. Where all my real strength comes from is my core and that’s what helps me stay balanced.”
After a few years of mastering the basics of skiing, Jallen learned of the Paralympics and made it her goal to one day compete in them.
Little did she know, she would walk out of Sochi, Russia, a two-time medalist.
“I was in utter disbelief,” said Jallen. “I had never beaten my competitor Allison Jones and in my very first race I beat her by a significant amount. It put me in third and her fourth. It was incredible.”
Despite her new found success, Jallen was quick to remember who helped her achieve her dream of competing in the Paralympics.
“Ernie Baul played one of the biggest parts in getting me to Russia,” said Jallen. “Him and my mom had the two biggest parts. Right before I left he said ‘Go for it! You know how to ski, pressure’s off and people are gonna see what you have, so show them what you have!’”
Coming home an Olympic champion, Jallen was not prepared for the amount of attention she would receive, saying she never even considered what would happen after the Paralympics were done.
“It is a bit overwhelming,” said Jallen. “It is surreal because in my mind all I thought about was Russia and being in Russia, but never after. It all became a shock with attention and all the appearances and speaking. It seems to never really end because as soon as I go somewhere someone contacts me and asks to speak somewhere else, but I love sharing my story. It’s just different for me because I consider myself a small town Harding girl.”
In her spare time Jallen said she likes to read a book, or go quading.
With the attention she has been getting from Russia finally starting to settle down, Jallen said she looks forward to graduating from Wyoming Area high school in a few weeks and being just a regular person again, but admitted her days as a Paralympic skier are far from over.
“I”m training for Korea for 2018,” said Jallen. “If I do want to go, I’ll be prepared and ready. The last thing I want to do is get myself stuck somewhere where I’m not ready. If I can stay healthy and manage college, it’ll workout.”