Dani Aravich Is Ready To “Find Her Groove” In World Championships In Sweden
by Karen Price
Dani Aravich competes at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dani Aravich got her first look at the terrain for the 2023 FIS Para Nordic World Championships starting in Sweden on Saturday and saw what her next week and a half would hold.
Namely, lots of uphill.
“The standing courses are challenging,” she said. “Very challenging, to be frank. It’s a lot of climbing, so it will be tiring. But my coach says that he thinks that’s good for me because I’m a high-tempo skier and pretty grindy. So he thinks it will be well-suited for me.”
Aravich, 26, is one of six skiers and one guide who will represent Team USA in Östersund, Sweden, during these world championships that run Jan. 21-29.
Oksana Masters, the most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time, will not compete as she recovers from surgery. However, Aravich will be joined in the women’s events by six-time Paralympic medalist Kendall Gretsch and three-time Paralympic medalist Sydney Peterson, who made her debut in the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
Seven-time Paralympic medalist Dan Cnossen, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike, four-time Paralympic medalist Jake Adicoff and guide Sam Wood make up the U.S. athletes competing in the men’s events.
Aravich is still relatively new to Nordic. The former NCAA Division I track and cross country athlete, who competed at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, attended her first Nordic training camp in 2019. She had only been to one major international competition before her world championship debut in 2022, but still got top-eight finishes in both the 10K classic and individual biathlon.
Born without her left hand and forearm, Aravich decided heading into this season that she was going to focus solely on Nordic moving forward. Although being an elite athlete in any sport carries the demands of training, travel and competition, Aravich said the switch to training for Nordic full time has brought about a whole lifestyle transformation.
“Not just in the actual training but how I’m fueling, how I’m sleeping, and socially as well,” she said. “Nordic skiers are super outdoorsy folks in the sense that we’re mountain biking in the summer, when we’re not cross-country skiing we’re backcountry skiing, and doing different activities like that.
“It’s definitely a different culture. And one thing my coach kept saying was he wanted me to buy into the lifestyle.”
One small thing, Aravich said, is she’s finally getting the hang of how to layer for different events in different types of weather. She’s also learning more about ski selection, waxing and fine-tuning her own equipment.
She’s still working, she said, to “find her groove” with shooting and has been practicing on a target smaller than what they use in competitions hoping that will help strengthen her skills.
“I’ve shot pretty poorly at some events, like the Games and world championships last year,” she said. “I just have this innate desire that I don’t want it to be a situation — and this comes down to confidence — where I come to the range thinking, ‘I hope I make a shot.’ I want to get to the point that Kendall and Aaron and Dan and Oksana are at, where they know they won’t miss.
There’s always a chance, but they have so much experience that it’s more rare that they do miss than if they hit.”
So far this season, there hasn’t been a great deal of competition by which to measure her progress, Aravich said. The national team had time trials against members of the Canadian team back in November, and some of the standing team members competed at the U.S. nationals. But this will be the first real test of the year. She hopes it will help her prepare for the world cup event at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, later this year.
“I told my coach at the beginning of the season that where I really wanted to have my best skiing of the year is at Soldier Hollow because it’s at home,” Aravich said, “my family will be there, I lived in Utah, that’s where I started skiing, and with the hopes of the 2030 bid coming back I’ve been working with the organizing committee so I really want Soldier Hollow to be my time this year.
“I’m going to see how it goes at worlds, and be appreciative of being here, but also not put too much pressure on myself.”
While a podium finish at worlds would be a first for Aravich, sit skier Gretsch is looking to add to her 14 career world championships medals. Cnossen, a retired Navy SEAL, has two world silver medals and Pike, who’s coming off a successful wheelchair marathon season, won silver at last year’s world championships. Both are sit skiers along with Gretsch.
Adicoff came out of retirement for the 2022 Paralympic Games and, alongside Wood, won three medals at last year’s world championships, which were the first worlds medals of his career. Peterson, a standing skier, is also newer to Nordic but earned three world championships medals last year.
This will be the first world championships since FIS took over governance of Para skiing and Para snowboarding. It’s also the first big event in recent years that the team can feel a little more like a team, Aravich said.
“I think everyone’s excited to have a little more flexibility in socializing while we’re here and being able to go places,” she said. “Last year, prior to Beijing, we had to be so strict because we couldn’t get COVID so we could only go to the venues, we had to eat in our rooms and followed very strict procedures. This year we’re obviously still being careful but we’re allowed to hang out and eat dinner at the same table and chat with other countries without these barriers between us, so that’s nice.
It’s wild to think we’re now only three years out from the next Games so I think it’s going to go pretty fast.”