Welcome to the GRIT formula interview series!

We created this space for girls and women to get REAL and share their “gritty moments”.

Meet Alana Nichols 

Alana Nichols is a world-class athlete with a passion for challenging herself and others. From a young age, her passion for sports and adventure has driven her and no matter what obstacle life throws her way, she takes a challenge head on.  After suffering a spinal cord injury at age 17 while attempting a back flip on her snowboard, Alana quickly transitioned to adaptive sports.  She is the first American female to win gold medals at both Summer (Wheelchair Basketball) and Winter (Alpine Ski Racing) Olympic/Paralympic Games.  Currently training for the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Paralympic Games, Alana will be taking on a new athletic challenge in Sprint Kayaking and will continue to inspire and attract fans around the world.

Tell us about a GRITTY MOMENT in your life that has forced you to learn what you are truly made of…
From the age of 5, all I knew was basketball, volleyball, and softball. I ate, breathed and slept sports for 12 years until my senior year in high school. It was November 19th of 2000 and really early in the ski season but a group of friends and I went out into the backcountry to build jumps and hike with our snowboards. I had wanted to try a backflip on my snowboard all summer and impulsively decided that I should try it that day even though there was enough snow coverage. I over rotated the backflip and landed back first on a rock that was under the snow. When I hit I broke my back in 3 places and became paralyzed from the waist down upon impact. It was shocking and confusing and as I was airlifted in a helicopter to the hospital I thought about how my athletic career was over and how my dreams of playing collegiate softball were never going to come true. I underwent an 8 hour back reconstruction surgery, woke up in the ICU, would do 3 months of rehabilitation, cry a lot of tears but I finally graduated from high school. I went on to college but lost all hope for living a happy life as a person in a wheelchair, I was always an athlete and didn’t know who I was without sports. Finally 2 years later when I was at my lowest, most hopeless point, I found wheelchair basketball. I tried it and it was HARD. I didn’t think adaptive sports could challenge me until I saw it. I was intrigued and learned about the collegiate teams available and about the Paralympics Games. I set new goals and did A LOT of hard work. I graduated from The University of Arizona with a degree in education on a basketball scholarship, went on to do my graduate work at The University of Alabama on a wheelchair basketball scholarship and later that summer competed in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing and WON GOLD!!! I got knocked down hard right when my life was about to take off. I was challenged beyond my imagination to DIG DEEP FOR MY GRIT, to re-think and adapt to life and because was open to the possibilities of adaptive sports, a whole new world opened up for me! It was my GRIT that got me through to the next phase of my life and I’m so grateful that it did.
GUTS: How did you “grow guts” and be brave enough to get through your “gritty moment”? Were you afraid? Where did you find your courage? How did facing that moment affect your confidence? Did you feel more confident afterward?
I grew guts every day I had to wake up and see that wheelchair next to my bed. I didn’t want to be seen in public, felt so misunderstood. It took guts for me everyday to decided to literally push that wheelchair forward but everyday I didn’t let it beat me, I got stronger and gained the confidence I needed to be the strong, successful woman I am today!
RESILIENCE: What did you learn from pushing through your “gritty moment”? What helped you “not give up” and persevere?
When I pushed through my gritty moment I learned that I, in fact, COULD accomplish what I set out to do. Everyday I realized my true strength and built upon it. I learned that I had support but that no one was going to do it for me and that my life and my destiny was in my own hands.
IMPERFECTION: How do you deal with failure and making mistakes? Did your “gritty moment” force you to learn and grow?
I accept failure as equally as valuable as success. Like Yin and Yang, Good and Bad, failures lessons were as important to me as my successes. I would have never know my true strength and the extent of my resilience if I wasn’t forced to prove it. I’m beyond thankful for that Gritty Moment.
TEAM: What role did your support system play in helping you through this challenging time? What role has this “team” had in your life?
My sisters were my main support system during that time and literally had to sometimes get me out of bed. I am so grateful for their time and energy during that time as I am not sure I would have gotten through without them. My first wheelchair basketball team also played a big role in my overall recovery from my spinal cord injury. they taught me so much about confidence and self-love.
What advice would you give to your younger “gritty girl self”?
I would tell her: “DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF AND FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO”. Don’t compare yourself to anyone! Not even your old able-bodied self. You are unique in your strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. Focus on what you CAN DO!