MEET ANNA BENINATI: NAC PARALYMPIC HOPEFUL.
Name: Anna Beninati
Competitive Sport: Alpine Ski Racing
First, tell us about yourself,Where are you from? What is your diagnosis? If willing- tell us a little bit about your story!
I was born in San Antonio, TX, but since my dad was in the Air Force, we moved every 2-3 years. We even lived in Hawaii for a while! After he retired, we moved to Utah, and I graduated high school down in Sandy before going to Colorado for college. The second week of my freshman year at CSU, I tried to jump onto a moving freight train and tripped. I was run over by three 30-ton coal cars, and my legs were severed above the knee on-site. I was 17 years old.
As a National Ability Center athlete, what is your biggest accomplishment in your sport?
Last season, I was on the podium a total of 14 times. And one of those times was at the World Cup Finals in Aspen! I wasn’t quite qualified for the race, so the U.S. gave me a “wild card” entry. I wound up taking bronze in the slalom.
What do you do in your training that is key to your success?
I always try to remember that the reason I started racing is because I love skiing. When things are getting too challenging, or too stressful, I go out of my way to take the time for a few free runs- no coaches, no gates, no timing; just me and the snow. That helps me remember what I love about the sport, and it keeps me from losing motivation.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
It’s not exactly “advice”- more like a nudge in the right direction. My first week home from the hospital after losing my legs, I was in a very dark place. A lot of people who have acquired disabilities will tell you the same; that first week home is the worst week of your life. I was crying all night, crying all day, struggling with wheelchair skills, and I had a lot of anger and self-pity. Then, one day, my mom pointed out to me that by the time I’m 34, I will have been an amputee for as long as I had legs. That floored me. And it got me thinking about my life in the long-term again; where will I be in a year? Five years? Ten? 50? I had a lot of life left to live! And I realized that my options were simpler than I’d been making them. Really, I had two choices: I could give up, or I could get up. And I made the conscious decision to get up, and keep living.
What is your biggest challenge, and how do you do manage this challenge?
Honestly, the biggest obstacle to my success right now is a financial one. Alpine skiing is an expensive sport- Paralympic alpine skiing is even more expensive, between equipment, travel, race entry fees, hospital bills when you crash, etc. So I work two, sometimes three jobs year-round, and I’m always fundraising. In a roundabout way, though, it actually helps me ski better. Because the better I ski, the more people will want to sponsor me!
Who are your heroes? Why?
Stephani Victor is one of my biggest inspirations in Alpine Skiing. We both lost our legs (above the knee) around the same age, in very traumatic ways. And she’s a world-class sit athlete, with many Paralympic and World Championship medals. When I look at her, it gives me hope that someday, I could be too. Since she lives here in Park City, I’ve had the opportunity to train with her a little, and those days have been some of the most meaningful of my entire career!
What makes you different from other athletes?
Of the full-time athletes at NAC, I’m the only girl. I’m also the only one in a wheelchair! But most important, I think, is that I am the only one who was not born with my disability. I know what it’s like to be able-bodied, because I was for 17 years, and then I had to learn how to live with my disability at the same time as I was learning to ski race. It puts me at a distinct disadvantage, sometimes. The other athletes have never known anything different, and oftentimes, that makes them better skiers. So I just have to work extra hard to keep up!
What would you do if you didn’t have the National Ability Center?
If I didn’t have the NAC, I don’t think I’d be able to compete in ski racing. I might be a casual skier, but I doubt I’d own my own equipment, because I wouldn’t have the resources to learn how to use it properly. I’d probably be in college in Colorado again, which is a fine goal, and a fine path in life- but the opportunity to become a Paralympic athlete is even more rare than “once in a lifetime.” So I am extremely grateful to the National Ability Center for giving me that opportunity!
Mentally, prior to a race, what are the thoughts going through you mind?
Before a race, I tend to stress myself out a lot! I want to focus on the most physically dangerous parts of the course, and I usually start imagining all the ways in which I could make a mistake or get hurt. But I try and quiet those thoughts, and instead focus on the areas of the course where I can gain speed, and areas where I can afford to let a little speed go in exchange for enhanced safety, and a tactical advantage. That seems to be a healthier way to approach it!
What is your favorite part about being a National Ability Center Athlete?
I love the sense of community we have here at the National Ability Center! We’re all friends, we’re all family- we’re all working towards the same goal of getting people with disabilities involved with sport. When I walk into the NAC, everyone is smiling, and everyone knows each other. It really is like a family here!
Do you have any rituals you do prior to a race?
I’m actually somewhat notorious for my weird, pre-race rituals, ha ha!! I like to get to the race start extremely early, pull off to a quiet area, take my helmet off, and listen to music on my headphones. I have a pre-race playlist for every event- my slalom songs are very different from my Super-G songs! And (this is the part that I’m notorious for…) I dance. I prop my ski rig up on my outriggers, so my arms are free, and I dance to the music I’m listening to. It keeps me moving, so I’m warm, and my muscles don’t get tight. And it keeps me in the mindset of what I’m about to do- my slalom songs are all fast-paced, so I’ll be moving to a fast beat, and I’ll even run through the course in my head, to the beat of the music. It helps me a lot! I used to get very psyched out, and I’d just sit still and worry, freezing cold. But now I’m warm, I’m moving, and I’m focused on my own race!
What are you favorite NAC programs?
Of course, I love the winter competition programs! I hope this year that I get to spend more time on the hill with Team Flyers, because they’re all wonderful people who are working towards the same goal I am! Apart from that though, I love the equestrian program. When I was an intern at NAC, I worked in the barn a lot, and I got to know all the horses. I’ve never ridden at NAC though, unfortunately. I have done quite a bit of horseback since I lost my legs, and I love it for a lot of reasons. So I hope someday to be able to ride at NAC too!
After your competitive career, what do you see yourself doing?
After I’ve retired from ski racing, I hope to return to CSU and earn a graduate degree in Music Therapy. That was my plan before I lost my legs- I wanted to be a music therapist who specialized in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Ideally, I would have liked to spend a few years doing research, and then open up a private practice. I think I’ll return to that dream after I’m through ski racing. Music and Autism really are my passions, and I hope I’ve got enough energy in me to make that my second career!