While every other student Stephanie Jallen’s age is worried about homework, she’s standing at a starting gate, facing 1,000 feet of ice-packed terrain.
Her only way to get down? Skis. Well, make that ski.
Born with the rare birth defect CHILDS (Congenital Hemidysplasia with Ichthyosiform Erythroderma and Limb Defects Syndrome), Jallen has only one leg and one fully developed arm.
Still, seven years ago, she hit the slopes for the first time. And now, she’s headed to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games.
For her endurance, her will to push on despite a life-altering disease while competing with some of the best athletes in the world, and for the way she has inspired young and old along the way, Stephanie Jallen, a 17-year-old Harding resident, has been selected as The Sunday Dispatch’s Greater Pittston Person of the Year for 2013.
The award is presented to the person who had the greatest impact on life in Greater Pittston during the past year, with the emphasis on impact. The staff of the paper has the final choice but it stems from nominations from Sunday Dispatch readers. Quite frankly, we could not be more pleased they nominated Stephanie.
“If you would have told me when I was seven years old that I would be getting this honor 10 years later, I wouldn’t believe it,” she said. “To be in the same company as the former winners is beyond anything I can think of.”
The family announced recently that Jallen will be going to Sochi from March 7-16 to compete in the Winter Paralympic Games. However, the full roster for Team USA doesn’t officially come out until February.
Jallen has never had the opportunity to run on two legs. She’s never read a book with two hands. But while many of us would let that bring us down, Stephanie embraces it.
Born with only one full arm and one full leg, she plays soccer, works out to an extreme level, and competes with only the occasional help of an outward for balance. And the truth is, she doesn’t need it.
This Wyoming Area high school senior has seen the world through the eyes of a Paralympic athlete. She’s competed in countries all across the globe, including Germany and Australia.
But some of her biggest moments are found right her in the Commonwealth.
In 2005, Jallen was a special guest of Sen. Ray Musto before the Pennsylvania Senate and gave an inspiring three-minute speech. As an 11-year-old, barely visible above the podium in a chamber that would intimidate most, she spoke about a recent encounter with Iraq War amputees. She encouraged the veterans to never give up. And they could see she knew what she was talking about.
“I love my country and there is no other way you can get that feeling to represent something so important and something you believe in,” she said. “I love being able to carry my country’s flag. I love the place I live.”
On Stephanie’s biography on teamusa.org, there is a quote that reads: “Rather than fear the storm ahead, learn to dance in the rain.”
That’s the quote Stephanie tries to live by. But a qoute that Jallen has made her own is: “It’s not can or can’t … it’s do or don’t.”
“It’s a mental battle,” she said. “If you think you can’t do it, then fine you can’t. Sit down and watch someone else do it. If you want to make a difference go and do it. That was always a pet peeve of mine. People can do anything if they want to. They just have to get out and do it.”
Jallen grew up in Harding. Seven years ago, she was introduced to skiing by the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports while visiting Camelback Ski Resort. There, she met and trained with Mau Thompson, who helped her enter multiple NorAm races.
Thompson also helped Jallen get involved with the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing Team. She was named to her first national team for the 2011-12 season. Since then, Jallen has been a part of the past two teams. But this being an Olympic year, it means a lot more.
Stephanie has had a ride of a lifetime so far. But she said none of it would be possible without the help of a few specific people. Jallen trains three times a week with her strength coach Ernie Baul.
“Ernie is a great person and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” she said. “He’s not only my strength coach but he’s really my mentor. When I fall off the tracks, he puts me right back on. He’s never been in a position with me and not known what to say. Sometimes I come back and want to throw in the towel. But Ernie is always right there to keep me going.”
Unlike some world class athletes who take time off from school, Jallen trains and competes while also balancing academics. Earlier this year, she found out that she has been accepted to Kings College and will be starting as a freshman next fall.
Jallen must keep a 3.5 GPA or higher to be able to continue on her path with Team USA. While in school, Stephanie says she keeps a low profile. And while some students still aren’t sure why she travels so much, they soon will.
“I keep my head down and ears out, and do what I have to do,” she said.
Stephanie said she wouldn’t trade her experience for anything.
“I get asked a lot if I would trade being on Team USA for having both arms and legs,” she said. “I would never. This is who I am and who I want to be.”
In the second week of March, Stephanie will carry the hearts of Greater Pittston with her to Sochi.
“I want to be able to go to Russia and show everyone what the United States is made of. I want to show the world what the U.S. can do. The only way I can do that is by competing the best I can (along) with my teammates.”
Stephanie is the daughter of Mike Jallen and Deb Jallen.
Over the past two years, the Jallen family has worked hard to raise enough funds for Stephanie’s dreams to stay alive. Deb doesn’t even want to think about the amount money it has taken to pay for training, travel and equipment. But through the Stephanie Jallen Paralympic Fund, donations have been streaming in.
To see Stephanie in action, or to donate, visit www.stephaniejallen.org.