Stephanie Jallen already won a medal in Sochi, Russia, and she has three shots left to do it again before the Paralympic Games wrap up Sunday.
The Harding teenager’s success — while a testament to her raw athletic ability and relentless training — also serves as a reminder of something deeper, a quality that makes her a champion beyond the ski slope or any competitive arena. At 18, Jallen understands what many adults fail to grasp over a lifetime: It’s not what you lack that matters, it’s what you’ve been given.
Yes, a rare birth defect deprived Jallen of a fully formed left arm and robbed her of a left leg, amputated while she was still an infant.
But she’s been blessed with a tremendous heart. And it beats strong.
At 9, Jallen attended a learn-to-ski event for disabled individuals held in Tannersville, where she was smitten with the sport. The girl known as “hopper,” for her propensity to bounce through the Jallen household on one limb during those times when a prosthetic wasn’t an option, began to dream.
The pursuit of her goal has since carried her to places including Colorado, Utah, Germany and Australia. At 15, the daughter of Mike Jallen and Deb Jallen earned a spot on her first national Paralympic ski team. Her alpine exploits drew news media attention, including headlines such as “Local teen wins medals at U.S. Nationals event.”
From the start, her spirit has inspired. Rather than wallow in pity, placing self-imposed limits on her activities, Jallen lived boundlessly. She arm-wrestled the boys in her grade, besting all of them, according to her account for a 2007 news article. She bounced on her trampoline and scaled trees. She cared for a range of pets, including chinchillas and a pair of cats. She played soccer.
Along the way, Jallen’s dream remained alive, nurtured by an ever-expanding band of supporters. She can count them, too, among the wonderful things she has been given.
A caring family. Friends and classmates. Organizations such as the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports and National Sports Center for the Disabled. Trainer Ernie Baul. Her ski coach. Donors who made Jallen’s trips possible by responding to a years-long stream of fundraisers: motorcycle runs, car shows, a candle sale, comedy night and wheelchair basketball game.
They propelled her, or maybe she pulled them along in her exuberant quest to conquer a slope, to clutch a medal, to cling to a flower bouquet on the victory stand and experience goosebumps.
Even before her bronze-medal performance Monday, Jallen’s uplifting attitude had made its impact on people in Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. She had addressed state lawmakers. She spoke with returning war veterans who also are amputees. The Times Leader’s sister publication, The Sunday Dispatch, recently named Jallen its 2013 Greater Pittston Person of the Year and intends to recognize her at an event next week. Her philosophy on achievement came shining through in an interview.
“It’s a mental battle,” she told a reporter. “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. … People can do anything if they want to. They just have to get out and do it.”
A winner before she ever reached Sochi, Jallen, who plans to attend King’s College in Wilkes-Barre this fall, didn’t need to enter a single race to prove her mettle or to satiate her true fans. She could have slid down the entire super-G course on her belly, laughing all the way.
She could have flopped on the ground and formed a snow angel, its left wing broken — and beautifully perfect.