CARLSBAD — In January, Katrina Schaber earned the distinction as the U.S. Junior National Gold Medalist for Slalom at Waterville Valley, N.H. This was remarkable feat for the ninth-grader at Canyon Crest Academy considering that eight years earlier she had difficulty keeping up with her peers, both academically and physically due to a condition known as toe walking.
Between the time she was in kindergarten and third grade, Katrina’s mother, Carolina Schaber, drove her to doctors and physical therapists desperately trying to get a diagnosis. No one had an answer. Schaber was working for a biotech company at the time and subsequently lost her job when her employer made the decision to close the business. A nurse, Carolina Schaber decided to apply for a job at Rady’s Children’s Hospital. In a stroke of fate, she was hired by Dr. Henry Chambers, a specialist in cerebral palsy.
“I told him my daughter walked on her toes,” she said. “He said he’d like to see her. Within five minutes he figured it out. She had cerebral palsy.” Katrina was also diagnosed with a learning disability and attention deficit disorder.
“With medication and a wonderful group of teachers and resource people, we were able to get the treatment she needed,” Schaber said. “She went from failing to being an A student.”
Coincidentally, the Schaber family had planned a vacation at the Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. Katrina’s decision to take group lessons led to frustration, even tears. Later, she was inspired by the sight of other kids like herself with disabilities learning how to ski at the resort’s adaptive ski school.
“She found out she qualified for the school and had her first lesson with a private coach,” Carolina said. “Afterwards, she said ‘Mommy! I loved it! They ‘got’ me!’”
From that moment Katrina began participating in various adaptive learn to race camps through the Disabled Sports USA Program.
At a camp at Mammoth Mountain in spring 2010 she was recruited by Coach Mau Thompson, U.S. Adaptive Coach of the Year. Today, Katrina is a member of Team Mau, and registered with the North American Paralympic Race Events for Alpine Skiing and the International Paralympic Committee.
In this capacity, Katrina travels independently throughout the country training and racing. She’s so committed to her training regimen that she barely has time to unpack.
“It’s a joke that I’m never home,” she said, laughing. “I wash my clothes, but what’s the point putting them away?”
Katrina will continue to train into adulthood, with the ultimate goal of competing in the Paralympics in South Korea in February 2018. Alongside her are competitors of all ages and physical challenges including those with visual impairments, cerebral palsy, amputations and spinal cord injuries.
“One of my best friends is a wounded warrior,” she said.
“The worst day of my life was the day I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Now I realize it was a blessing because I never would have been able to do this and meet such wonderful people from all over the world.”
Carolina Schaber added, “As a parent, I thought that my child would never be in regular classes in high school, or be able to play soccer, or go on family ski trips. Now she waits for me at bottom of the slope.
“Katrina was mentored by paralympians, wonderful coaches and people at Rady’s Children’s Hospital who cared. They made it all happen.”
Virginia Tinley is executive director of the Challenged Athletes Foundation that awarded Katrina with a CAF Access for Athletes grant to attend the National Alpine Ski Camp at Mt. Hood, Ore., this summer.
“When we met Katrina just this past winter, we instantly recognized that through her own goals, hard work and dedication to the challenged athlete community, she embodies the mission and values of the Challenged Athletes Foundation,” Tinley said. “She is a talented athlete and a role model for all of us, both physically challenged and able-bodied alike.”