True vision comes from the heart. This is what our guest, Danelle Umstead, exemplifies. Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at the age of 13, Danelle has no central vision and is losing her peripheral vision. But that didn’t stop her from conquering the slopes – literally and figuratively. Danelle is a professional skier, three-time Paralympian and bronze medalist, 53-time world cup medalist, and Dancing with the Stars contestant. She relates how she coped with her disability to create an amazing life with a myriad of accomplishments. One of Danelle’s mantras is to get out of your comfort zone if you’d like to find a new way of life, a sense of freedom and joy. Don’t miss this episode and find inspiration in Danelle’s story of resilience and making the seemingly impossible possible.
DOING THIS for 10 Seconds Can Change Your Life! Click here to watch Adam’s Inspiring TEDx Talk!
Watch the Episode Here:
Listen to the Episode Here:
Read the Show Notes Here:
Danelle Umstead On Conquering The Slopes Of Life With Resilience
I am feeling incredibly blessed at this moment. Has had a lovely day and have had a lot of time to be present with my thoughts to feel my body and to get guidance from my body about things that are happening in my life at the moment. As well as the guidance to know how I want to respond at the moment including what I say. I’ve had an opportunity to speak to a number of people already and I’ve enjoyed all those conversations. In the moments that follow, I’m going to get to have an incredible conversation with somebody who is very interesting and incredibly vivacious. She’s a wonderful human and you’re all going to be massively inspired by her story.
You’ll find her very funny, as well. There’ll be so many things that you’ll gain from what we’re about to do. I’ll ask a start with a question and then that’ll lead us. We’re going to start a little bit differently. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hurdle down a mountain on two skis at speeds of up to 70 miles an hour virtually blind, relying on verbal cues from your guide a few feet in front of you? This is what Danelle Umstead does every single day. That’s who’s our guest is. Danelle, how are you?
I’m good. I’m excited to be with you. Thank you so much for having me. My name is spelled Danelle, but it’s spelled without an I. I tell everybody that’s because I can’t see. That’s it. I can’t see. Maybe if my mom put that I in there, I would’ve been better off. I feel like I have more blessings because I learned who people are true without seeing them.Never give up on yourself and never give in to anything that may not be the best. Click To Tweet
You’re in beautiful Park City, Utah.
Park City, Utah with a lot of snow and the Sundance is going on this time and it’s nice and busy and snowy and beautiful. I love where I live. I feel blessed every day.
My wife Randi and I got to spend some time in a while. We spent a number of trips. We’ve been to parks to Salt Lake City a number of times. In Park City, only once we went to the Sundance Film Festival and we went into Park City. We were actually staying at that little property that Robert Redford owns. It’s where the Sundance thing began. We went into Park City and experienced the energy, the excitement, and the traffic. I haven’t thought about this in a while but on the way back from our day/evening of eating and drinking and everything else in Park City. We were driving back to Sundance and it was on the highway. I got pulled over for over speeding. I had to rent a car and everything. I remember that the police officer, I can’t remember if he was a state or a local officer, but he looked like he could have been my kid. He looked about sixteen years old or something. I went back, he took my license and registration, went back to his car and I said to my wife, “I’ll totally get the ticket.”
He came back. He was the nicest. It’s weird to say this about a cop, but he was a sweet young man. He realized, “This is a tourist. This is somebody out here.” We weren’t doing anything dangerous or whatever. He gave me a warning. He says, “I want you to get back to your hotel safely and enjoy yourself while you’re here.” I thought, “That was cool.” It left a good taste in my mouth. Even that I was breaking the rules, but I got away. Is that what it’s all about? Is that the culture? Break the rules in Park City, but you’ll be okay.
People are kind here. The locals are amazing and very welcoming to tourists because they help our city and we love it.
I’m going to use that oddly enough as a way to leg into the conversation about what you’ve been doing and in the pivots these epic moments in your young life because you look like a very young person to me. You’ve been breaking the rules, and by that I mean you’ve not settled for status quo and you haven’t certainly settled for whatever the norm is. You haven’t followed the conventional rules about what a person who is legally blind will do, can do and is able to do. Any of that horse crap has not affected you seemingly by what you’ve accomplished. Why don’t we do this? Let’s go back to the origin story. You’re thirteen years old. You’d get a pretty ridiculous diagnosis of something. Your parents are there to hear this. Take us from that moment. We’ll go forward and stairstep our way up to the present moment.
Let’s tag team this one. My favorite quote is, “We’re better together.” At the age of thirteen, I woke up with this bad headache and I had these headaches a lot. It was like a piercing pain in my head. Usually, when I put my eyeglasses on, the headache goes away. When I was two years old, I started wearing eyeglasses, those thick ones. My parents called them Coke bottle glasses because they were thick and I could actually burn leaves with the sun with my glasses. That’s how thick they were. I’ve been wearing them since I was two. Usually, when I had these headaches, I would put my glasses on and the headaches would subside because they were straining so much. This day the headache was so severe, they would subside a little bit when my eyes were closed and when my glasses were on, they were not fully going away.
My mom knew there was something wrong. She took me to the eye doctor that I had been seeing since I was two years old. They took a bunch of tests on me and they pulled out this chart. This is the test I remembered the most. He told me to close my left eye and cover it over my eyeglasses and look at this chart in front of me. It was then I knew something was wrong because the whole center of the graph, was like completely gone. It was black. I had lost the central part of my vision. At thirteen years old, obviously, I thought something was wrong. A few weeks later, after a bunch of tests, that doctor gave me and my mom the diagnosis that I have an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. It has taken my central vision first. He explained to me that this disease is a degenerative disease and I will eventually go completely blind. He explained it could happen tomorrow or it could happen 50 years from now and he didn’t know and there’s no cure for it. That was my prognosis at the age of thirteen years old. When you’re supposed to be thinking about boys and sports and having such a great time, I was worried about losing my sight.
What happens after that? What do you do with that? First of all, it’s a shock. I don’t know that any of us who’ve not experienced that could ever, heaven and understanding of it. You’re leading us into that world.
I was thirteen years old. I remember when the doctor told me. We went back to the doctor’s office a couple of weeks later, after all the tests and he told us the diagnosis. I remember my mom squeezing my hand and said, “We got this. We’re going to do this together. I’ll always be by your side.” I believed that. I spent the next probably five, six years trying to find ways to beat it. Maybe the doctors are wrong. Maybe I have something else. Going and getting tested for so many research things and hoping that I was misdiagnosed. I’m doing that at a young age. Also, at some point, I went into denial and I’m like, “I don’t have a vision in my right eye, but the rest is not going to go. I’ll be fine. I’m never going to go blind. I could do so much with the sight in my left eye. I don’t need that. I’ll be okay.”Anything is possible no matter your age, your ability, or no matter what it is. Click To Tweet
I continued playing sports. I loved soccer. Soccer was my favorite sport. I was starting to get worse at the game and I started not finding the ball anymore. I used to always listen to where the ball landed and then follow the people running and it got harder and harder. I wasn’t making teams. I was starting to go down a slope where a teenager doesn’t like to go. It’s where you’re not fitting in anywhere. I’m a lot older than you think. I’m growing up with a disability that was hard. It wasn’t socially acceptable. You can find so many resources a lot and there’s more to be had, but you can find so many resources to help you when you have a disability. I didn’t have that. At 29, I had driven a car for a while and I had a few things that I was able to do. I was 27 and my mom passed away from cancer, my soul, my everything and the person that was going to be by my side through everything. That put me down a spiral of wanting to give up on life. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like when you think you don’t fit in or life doesn’t give you the right things. There are no possibilities for me and everything seems completely impossible.
Danelle, what’s going on at that point? It’s clearly a low to lose somebody that you’re so close to that supported you so much. I love what you said earlier that she said, “We’ll figure it out.” I know that well from my own experience with my wife that we’ve had our ups and downs in various areas of life. At any of those points in time, we find out so much about ourselves and we also find out everything we need to know about the people that are in our lives because they either come up with those kinds of statements that they say, “We got this,” even if you don’t know what that looks like because nobody does. Energetically, you know they got you back. Your mom had your back. Now, she’s not there.
She’s not there and I lost all usable vision in both eyes after she passed away. I was completely devastated, lost and alone. My parents were divorced at the age of five. My father moved away a few years back and he called me out of the blue because he had learned how to ski a couple of years back. He wanted me to go skiing with him and he called me up. I was feeling sorry for myself. My father and I have not always had the perfect relationship. He’s an Italian. He was a strong Italian man. Sometimes it wasn’t easy to get along with, but I love my dad and always will. He called me up and wanted to take me skiing. Desperation led me to the inspiration to say yes. That’s a crazy request to do. I find myself two months later on the mountains skiing and found a new way of life, found a sense of freedom and joy that I hadn’t felt since I lost my vision.
Let’s back up a second because somebody’s going, “Are you saying that we have somebody who’s virtually blind skiing.” How’d that happen?
I know I felt the same thing because again, I was like, “This is going to be impossible.” I was desperate to find a relationship and get close to my father. It took me going skiing with my dad, which was crazy, I was going to do it. We were at the top of the mountain and I’ll never forget, the instructor had taught us how to make some turns in the bunny hill and holding onto some straps and some bamboo. We’d hold onto it and ski together. We got to the top of the mountain. It was like a bunny hill and she told us that my father was going to ski in front of me. He was going to call out commands and guide me down the mountain, turn by turn. He wears a bright orange bib over his jacket.
Because I can see if you’re within a few feet of me, so you have to be pretty close. It only spots, so I can only see the contrast in colors. He took off in front of me and started shouting commands. I remember taking a deep breath before I left and he started shouting these commands and going, “How am I doing?” As each turn came along, I would feel the wind in my face and I could smell the fresh air. I can hear my dad calling these commands and turn for turn, moment by moment. I gained this unbelievable strength and power that gave me joy and freedom. I told my father and still tell him to this day. I thank him every day for giving me a new life through sport. I was so lucky and blessed that he made that phone call and that I was desperate enough to say yes. That moment led me to who and where I am now.
Let’s talk about UMass Amherst because Randi, my wife, and I met at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. When I was doing a little research on you, I found that your Rob was a University of Massachusetts guy. On the ski team?
He majored in zoology, but he spent a semester at CU. He’s an amazing guy. He was a collegiate ski racer there. He came from UMass and he says he might be a Masshole here and there. I love him to death. He’s amazing. After skiing with my dad that first time, I ended up moving about a year later to the mountains in New Mexico so I could ski all winter long. After a day of skiing with a girlfriend of mine, I asked her if she would go and have a drink with me at the Thunderbird Lodge and get something to eat. We were standing at the bar and we’re waiting for food as we’re having our drink. There was this voice to my right and there’s something different about this voice. I said to my girlfriend, “What does that guy look like?”
He comes and sat next to us and started talking and seriously, he became my best friend first and then the man of my dreams next. He was my best friend. I’ve never talked to somebody and been in-depth and communicated so well with somebody. It’s amazing. We moved to Park City a couple of years after we met. We got married at the top of Snowbird in our wedding clothes and then we skied down together and then he started guiding me ever since then. It was in our vows. Guide me for the rest of your life. Rob is my guide and I have been skiing and got involved with racing. I had this passion at the age of 33 to become a Paralympian. People told me it was impossible. That made me go, “I’m tired of thinking things are impossible.” I went down that road once and now I’m on this journey of making the impossible possible. Have you ever heard where people take impossible and break it down to “I’m possible?”
Yes, I’ve seen that. It’s way cool.
They did it at the 2014 Sochi games. They did it with a bunch of lights and they broke it up. It was said impossible and they broke it up. It was like, “I’m possible.” That’s my dream for any female, any male, anybody with a disability or hardship. Anything’s possible. We’re all possible and impossible. I took it on and I wanted to represent our country at the Paralympic games. Rob agreed to start guiding me. He quit his job and started guiding me full-time. We were going to show the world that this old lady can do whatever she wants. It’s the Paralympics. I learned how to ski at the age of 29. I wanted to become a Paralympian at the age of 33. Most athletes have retired by that time. Everybody was like, “You might’ve missed your window there.”
We said you’re a rule breaker or I guess I said I was a rule breaker. We are a rule breaker.
We ended up moving up the ranks. There were some hardships. There’s a lot of ups and downs because you have to gain that trust and that communication in sport and in life. That doesn’t happen overnight. Because I married a guy doesn’t mean I trust them going up to 70 miles an hour down the slopes together, ski racing. That took time and we still work on it years later. We’ve been a team on an off the hill. Our communication is always changing and we’ve always learning how to better ourselves as a team and bringing that into our home lives. It’s an amazing thing that we’ve done together. It’s an amazing reward that we can show people that anything is possible and no matter your age, your ability, no matter what it is. Break those rules and we together have represented our country at three Paralympic Games and won three Paralympic bronze medals and lots of other stuff. We’ve lost a lot too. Part of winning is understanding and learning how to lose. We lost more than we’ve won. The winning is the exciting part that the hard work pays off. It’s the journey that matters.
Yes. It’s the trust piece. I am thinking because Randy and I were married for more than 30 years.
It’s all about the voice.
For you, it was love at first voice.
Love at first sound.
For us, in a marriage, any long-term relationship, trust is such a big deal, the communication, the two things you mentioned, education and trust. Have the skills that you’ve honed on the slope to make sure you didn’t run off the mountain or worse, have they helped you in your marriage? Have they helped you in your relationship? What can you say about that?
Yes, I believe that because we’re such a strong team on the snow, it has made our marriage so simple. Our marriage is very easy. We know how to communicate. We know how to let things go. I have to let things go in everything. In sport and in life, sometimes things happen. You got to let it go. I’m the queen of letting it go. The communication and trust, all of that we learned in sport translate into our marriage and our life together as husband and wife and parents. That part’s easy. We’re very lucky. We do not fight. We learned to let things go and communicate and work through it and move on. The trust there, it’s challenged on a daily basis. It’s not because he’s doing anything wrong. Sometimes I don’t trust myself, sometimes maybe he’s not right or maybe I feel like it should be something different. We learned to communicate and make that trust even stronger. You have to question that trust on a daily basis to make that trust even stronger.
One thing you can say whether it’s easier, it’s not. None of this stuff is neat and tidy or orderly. To use the term that is associated with my own reinvention, pivot, and it’s these little micro changes. On the slope, I would think that the degree, because it’s been a while since I’ve skied and actually, I’m going to tell a story I’ve never told before about that. The micro-adjustments that you make on your skis, they have a huge impact. If you’re a little off, you’re a little bit on your own one side or the other.
You don’t have your hip height a little bit of trust is enough your aerodynamics. There’s a lot of little things.
Now I’ve promised I’ll say this, but we haven’t skied. We live in San Diego and I’m a Pisces, so very comfortable around the water. I swim and surf. There was a point where, because from an athletic standpoint, skiing is wonderful. The mountains are gorgeous. We still do that. We were in college and we had met, maybe we were dating for about a year. We went up to Stowe, Vermont. It’s a beautiful ski area. It’s a ski resort. It’s notorious for a few things like the ski conditions can be crappy there and it gets icy. Here we spend the first day we had this wonderful day with bunny hilling it and all that thing. Hot tub at night under the stars. It couldn’t be going any better. Romantic and everything. The next day I sit around and I go, “We could take a little more, get up the mountain a little bit, get on one of these other runs.” It wasn’t a black diamond or anything crazy stuff like that, but it was one of these meandering runs. It was probably no 14 or 15 miles long and it was probably middle of the road in terms of what was required to be on it. It was narrow and stuff.
We’re coming around a turn and I’m behind her. I’m not in front of my wife at this point. She’s in front of me and all of a sudden, I hear this yelp because she’s entangled with a guy who’s standing. Some knucklehead was standing right in the middle of the slope. You’ve seen that before. She’s a new skier and she’s trying to stop using the snowplow. It’s the only thing you learned at the beginning. She tears her ACL and I’ll never forget the sound that came out of her. I’ve never heard it in years. She’s had, four kids. I’ve seen some rough stuff, but I’ve never to this day, heard a sound like the sound of that. I remember we were in the hospital that and I said, “We haven’t been on skis.” We went to Aspen for like some birthday of mine once and skied with my brother, but have not spent any time skiing since that.
She hasn’t been back on the skis? We need to get her back on the skis.
What’s cool is that she ended up getting a bad surgery afterward. Her knee was never the same until we found out a new sports medicine doctor that said, “I could get this fixed for you.” She trusted him. She had faith because the first one was so rough. The rehab was the worst part of it. Ultimately, she had this new surgery and she’s 100%. I am not going to suggest that she gets up on skis. That’d be somebody else or her.
I’m challenging her now to get back out there and show those skis how to do it. She can come with the blind girl. She might feel safe.
That’s the way to go. I’m 100% accurate. She’ll trust that before she will trust me, honestly. Trust is so important. I’m telling that story in part because of what I violated that day. Because we got married maybe two or three years later and to this day, this is more than 30 years later as I’m saying this, I violated her trust. She didn’t want to go. She didn’t think she was ready to and I was pushing her and maybe even guilting her into doing something to stretch her a little bit that I knew I could do, but she didn’t know she could do. That’s what hurts. The more lasting pain was the fact that I had violated her trust in me. That’s one of those things that is so important. It’s important in every relationship or in business.
I want to say something about that though because Rob does that every day. He has to push the boundaries and violate that trust. I’m thankful that he has the courage and he has the ability to see that in me that I don’t see in myself. I understand where you’re coming from, but also you probably believed that she could do it and was encouraging her. You weren’t doing it on a vicious like, “I could do this. You can’t.” I feel like we have to do that for one another, to push each other to do things beyond our comfort zone or we will never get out of our comfort zone. Unless we get out of our comfort zone, we won’t see what we’re capable of.Part of winning is understanding and learning how to lose. Click To Tweet
That’s a wonderful reframe. It’s another way to look at it as well. I say that too because part of what you explained marriage relationships, they’re tough at times because you say you go through those ups and downs and very much like a mountain. There are hills and valleys. One of the things that were important to me and certainly in our relationship going forward from that point was that you could trust me. That was something that I wanted to make sure was never in question again. It’s one of those things. When we know we’ve got a bit of a weak point in something there’s something there, we put more attention to it and give it more energy, more love, then we nurture it. You know that because you’re a mommy. It’s one of those things that moms model well, dads too. You didn’t stop with the Olympics. You didn’t stop with winning medals and all that. You are a participant, a contestant on a pretty famous show people love.
Yes, I was.
What was that like? There’s yet one more surprise.
I was the first blind contestant on Dancing with the Stars. It was season 28, which was the 2018 season and it was quite a challenge. I learned how to ski race in a lot of years. Learning how to dance in a couple of weeks was a very big challenge. Taking on a new partner that I need to trust and communicate with and use all these skills that I had so many years to work on, now I had to do it in a very short period of time with a total stranger. It was a hard task. I had never danced before in my life. I’ve done little like shake your booty like I do all the time, but no. I didn’t even understand how many muscle groups you use, little muscle groups, not the same muscle groups as skiing that you use on the dance floor. It was a lot of ups and downs on that. It was remarkable. That first dance came out. It was for my motivational song. Sound creates me a picture and music is like my meditation. I love music that has meaning. One of my favorite songs is Rise Up by Andra Day. Have you heard about it?
I have heard it.
Every word feeds my soul. It even says mountains. I’m like, “This is my song.” I listened to it actually every day. It’s like my motivating song to get going and some people need quiet. I need a song with my coffee. We danced to that song for the first time and it was my request. We got the okay to do it. Showing America what we all are capable of and what hard work and determination can get you, it was a beautiful thing, showing people that people with a visual disability are capable of many things. I was one of those people that doubted people like me. I was the biggest doubter. When I was diagnosed and learn that possibly I could go blind, I pretty much was like, “That’s the end of my world.” Now I’m redefining what it’s like to be a visually impaired person and a person with a visual disability. I actually want to promote so much that we all are capable of doing anything we set our minds to.
Anything else you want to share about that experience of being on that show that you learned from?
I learned a lot. I learned that with my husband and partnership, we could always talk it out, work it out. This is not my partner in life. This is not my partner forever or we only have a short time to be partners. I had to learn to let things go a lot quicker. I had to learn how to smile when I didn’t agree with situations and he had to do the same. He never taught anybody with a disability. I’m a very happy individual. I like to have a smile on my face even when things are going bad, probably more when things are going bad because I’ve got to find the best out of everything. That was a little hard for my partner to realize that I’m very serious about what I do, but I have to enjoy it. I was always laughing about everything. Trying to make him smile and he enjoyed it at the end. Allowing yourself, even if your partner or somebody you’re working within a business or in life, even if you don’t agree on everything, you can find a way, you can find common ground to work together. That’s where that communication and trust you can build.
Did you have a favorite judge?
Yes. It was from Carrie. She’s a sweetheart. I feel like she’s a very motivational person. She’s very warm and genuine and I love it to surround myself by people like that. I wish that it got to know her a little bit more.
People that want to see you succeed. That’s what they’re looking for, as you say, even when sometimes you can’t see it yourself. Danelle, you have such a fascinating life and philosophy. I know you share these messages. You speak and share with people.
I speak all over the world and I share my story and talk to companies and motivational speaking about trust and communication and about living your impossible. I love it. I love inspiring others. If I inspire one person in each crowd and I hope I do more than one, but if I inspire one, I know I’m making a difference.
You put your finger on something we share. We train speakers as well. People that do TED talks and also to speak and do what you do, traveling paid and keynote and that thing. Often that’s the one thing that can ground anybody if you could reach one person in this audience if one person was meant to hear what I have to say.
It’s all worth it.
You’ve made a huge difference with us. I want to ask you these final questions about resilience because you are a model of that. First of all, how do you define resilience?
I would say resilience has to start with them. You have to believe in yourself. You have to trust yourself. To be resilient, you have to have the inner strength and that’s something that has to be practiced every day. Never give up on yourself and never given to anything that may not be the best.In sport and in life, sometimes things happen and you just got to let it go. Click To Tweet
What’s one ritual that you have as a matter of daily practices that keeps you resilient?
My mornings are my daily practice and that keeps me resilient and who I am. Who cares if I did well on Dancing with the Stars and won a ton of metals? I am a good person with the biggest heart and a smile on her face. I am a person that cares about others. My daily practice would be waking up each morning and being thankful. I say thanks every single morning for what is good in my life.
We can’t get a better coming together of energy or intentions than this one. My TED Talk was about this one waking ritual. That’s your ritual. It’s the exact same thing. Take ten seconds, put your feet on the floor, feel grateful, feel appreciation for yourself. It’s not easy. I was so surprised as well that that with a TED Talk in particular because so many people get to see it. It’s a very diverse group of folks. Hundreds of thousands, millions of people will see it and often comment on what it felt like for them. It was a lot of support, of course, for this message of putting your feet on the floor, take ten seconds. No matter what’s happening in your life, the good, the bad, the ugly, that you could still be grateful in that moment.
You could say these four simple words out loud. I love my life. That also produced a lot of folks that push back that cross their arms and said, “If you knew what my life was like, if you understood what I was dealing with, you wouldn’t love your life either.” It is quite telling because for things to change, for anything to get better in our lives, the seeds of that change will always start with us. The seeds of that change always begin with our thinking. In sequential order, the first seed that you will plant every single day will be the seed that you plant upon waking. Your waking ritual is that much more important than almost anything else. I appreciate both the dovetailing of what is important to both of us and our messages and to have as a guest.
Thank you for having me and dealing with my smile the whole time.
I’ve been smiling this whole time myself.
I love it. Thanks for letting me know that. You could have been like a frown, like, “She won’t stop talking.”
I’ve had some, “Ugh,” moments for sure.
Hopefully, it’s not with me.Unless we get out of our comfort zone, we won't see what we're capable of. Click To Tweet
No, you are utterly amazing.
I’m honored to be here and I appreciate you inviting me.
Yes, you are one beautiful being. Thank you so much. Readers, please leave a comment, of course. Let us know what your thoughts are and you can find out more information about all the amazing things that Danelle Umstead is doing, including website. All that thing will be there for you, ciao for now.
- Danelle Umstead
About Danelle Umstead
Ever wonder what it is like to hurdle down a mountain on two skis at speeds up to 70 MPH virtually blind, relying on verbal cues from your guide a few feet in front of you? This is what Danelle Umstead does every day.
At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes blindness. She has no central vision and is losing her peripheral vision. Currently, her spotted vision limits her sight to less than five feet without any detail.
Danelle’s father, Peter, first introduced her to adaptive skiing in 2001, in Northern New Mexico. He promised to be her eyes on the slopes. Danelle was in a horrible place at that point in her life- having just lost her mom, sight, and essentially her will to live. She was hesitant to ski, feeling as if blind people couldn’t do anything, let alone ski down a mountain. But, from the moment she felt the rush of the mountain air against her face and the snow underneath her skis, she was hooked. She had a new vision for her life and began training to overcome her disability and focusing on all of her abilities.
Skiing not only gave Danelle her life back, it also led to meeting her husband, Rob while skiing in Taos, New Mexico in 2005. Within a year, the two moved to Park City, UT to start a life together. Danelle and Rob would later marry at the top of the mountain in Utah and ski down in their wedding clothes. Little did they know that it would all lead to careers as a dynamic alpine skiing team.
Danelle’s severe vision loss requires her to ski with a guide and when she began training full-time in 2006, she struggled to find a consistent guide. That is until Rob took the job full-time in the summer of 2008. Rob had skied his whole life and skied competitively in college for the University of Massachusetts. He was a veteran racer, coach, and then the perfect guide for Danelle.
As her guide, Rob skis a few feet in front of Danelle and acts as her ‘eyes’ on the course. He and Danelle wear Cardo motorcycle headsets where Rob is constantly communicating about where to turn when to catch air and what to feel with the terrain. The amount of trust that Danelle has in Rob is truly remarkable and has created a unique bond on and off the mountain. Together, they make up Team Vision4Gold. “Vision,” Umstead says, “is to have sight, an idea, or a dream.”
Danelle and Rob made history at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympic Games as the first husband and wife visually impaired ski race team to compete and medal for Team USA. They earned Bronze Medals in both the downhill and super combined events in Vancouver and ended that season, with the overall and super G World Cup titles.
Soon after the 2010 Paralympic Games, Danelle was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, unpredictable and often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Another unexpected challenge in her life, Danelle tackled it head-on and refused to let it deter her training.
The dynamic husband-wife duo also earned a Bronze Medal in the super combined at the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games.
The Umsteads are proud parents of their son, Brocton, who is nine years old. One of the main lessons they are teaching their son is that “people with disabilities can do amazing things.” Danelle embodies this lesson so much that when Brocton was watching Ted Ligety, one of the world’s best able-bodied skiers, Brocton asked what disability he had. Brocton had assumed that all world-class athletes have disabilities.
Team Vision4Gold competed at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games- an experience they were excited to share with their twelve-year-old son, Brocton.