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These Two Athletes Triumph Over All Obstacles With Flying Colors

Written By: Rina Magsombol Up to The Challenge Challenged Athletes Foundation
Photographed By: Noble Andrews

Some view challenges as a roadblock, the end of the line, a reason to give up. Others, like Alana Nichols and Andre Szucs, meet challenges as an opportunity for growth. One prefers to be recognized for his determination despite all circumstances, and the other is a two-sport wonder in wheelchair basketball and alpine skiing. The Challenged Athletes Foundation, which helps athletes with physical challenges pursue active, healthy lifestyles, has been a contributing source in helping both Nichols and Szucs maintain a steadfast physical lifestyle. Over the past two decades, CAF has raised over 70 million dollars and succeeded in accomplishing over 11, 000 funding requests from all physically challenged athletes in all 50 states and 32 countries. While more than 21 million people have physical disabilities, only one out of 10 actually lead physical lifestyles.

What you’ll discover about each of them is nothing short of phenomenal. Nichols and Szucs are not defined by their physical limitations; instead, they work a tad harder, reach that much further and have waited a bit longer to make their dreams a reality. And the results are immensely rewarding. As both will tell you, every athletic milestone is fuel to continue improving. So while others may be content with a triple backflip, that’s only a scratch of the surface to athletes like Nichols and Szucs.

Name: Alana Nichols

Sports of Choice: Wheelchair Basketball, Alpine Skiing and Surfing

Q: How has your physical challenge shaped your athletic journey?

Alana Nichols: I am a T-12 incomplete paraplegic. I broke my back after attempting a backflip on a snowboard a little over 15 years ago. I was a three-sport, high school-level athlete before my injury and was lost without sporting opportunities after the onset of my disability.

Q: Do you feel anything positive has come out of your challenge as an athlete?

AN: Absolutely. I have learned a great deal and have gained an incredible amount of perspective in regard to being thankful for what I do have. I have also developed a gritty toughness about me, having to adapt to the challenges in the world of disabled athletics.

Q: What are your weekly/daily exercises that comfort and benefit you physically?

AN: Physical therapy for shoulder injury, yoga, shoulder maintenance and core at the gym, kayaking, surfing and hand cycling.

Q: What are some awards you’re particularly proud of?

AN: I was the first American female to win gold medals at both the summer and winter [Paralympic] games, and first place at the first ever all-female adaptive surfing heat/competition.

Q: How were you feeling after your injury first happened and how did you manage to overcome those feelings with constructive, empowering thoughts?

AN: I felt hopeless but overcame that feeling daily with participation in sports, specifically wheelchair basketball.

Q: Did you set personal goals for yourself following your injury, and have you accomplished them?

AN: Yes, I have achieved all of the goals I’ve set for my physical development. I still hope to accomplish a lot on a spiritual and personal level in regard to healing and feeling whole.

Q: What are some athletic goals that you have yet to accomplish?

AN: Get in and out of the ocean independently—there has to be a way. I also am rehabbing a shoulder injury from two years ago. I would love to be back at 100 percent strength and flexibility of my right shoulder.

Q: Describe your support system and how it keeps you going.

AN: I have a coach, both personal and life, an athletic trainer and a physical therapist. Each person plays a specific role in maintaining my overall health and well-being and keeping me on track to reach my goals.

Q: Do you have a motto or mantra that inspires you?

AN: Do the best you can, with everything that you have, in each moment.

Q: How do you hope to inspire others who look up to you?

AN: I push my own limits and I think it naturally happens. Oh, and I post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter a ton!

Q: What can we find you doing on your down time?

AN: Surfing, reading, watching good movies and stretching.

Q: Why do you believe it’s important to remain active regardless of physical impediments?

AN: It makes you feel good. I think physical activity is directly tied to well-being. If you don’t get your endorphins pumping, your brow sweating and your heart beating, you aren’t as likely to be a positive, happy person.

Q: What is your greatest fear?

AN: That I am powerful beyond measure! That’s a quote from a Marianne Williamson poem. I think my greatest fear is feeling fear itself. It’s called counterphobia. So I do my best to allow fear to happen. Getting bit by a shark is a fear of mine, and that’s perfectly OK!

Q: Where is your favorite place to surf?

AN: Queens Surf Beach near Waikiki; I obviously need to travel and surf more.

Q: Do you have a fellow athlete you admire?

AN: Julia Mancuso! She surfs, ski races and she is boss!

Q: If you could be any other athlete, in whose shoes would you walk or run, and why?

AN: I think it would be super fun to be a great parkour athlete. It’s a mix between a great gymnast and an American ninja warrior.

Pedal to the Metal: Sure, Alana can tackle waves, but she also owns the streets! She believes that in her previous life, she was a race car driver – She loves driving!

Old Soul: Alana enjoys anything that breathes or speaks vintage.

Native Knowledge: One of Alana’s must-have athletic equipment is her snowboard click straps, which connect her hips to just about anything.

Challenged Athletes Foundation

Name: Andre Szucs

Sports of Choice: Swim, Surf and Triathlon

Q: How has your physical challenged shaped your athletic journey?

Andre Szucs: I was born without my lower right leg (below the knee) and, well, since it’s a physical “change” on my body, it just made sense to go after physical challenges my entire life, translated by sports of many kinds.

Q: Do you feel anything positive has come out of your challenge as an athlete?

AS: Always focusing on the positives. There’s no time to have a single hint of excuse or drama about my condition. Life is way too short to be missing out on opportunities to feel good about and to be happy out there!

Q: What are your weekly/daily exercises that comfort and benefit you physically?

AS: Swimming, mountain biking, road biking, surfing, trail and road running.

Q: What are some awards you’re particularly proud of?

AS: Finishing the XTERRA World Championship! It’s a big one and is currently my priority to get better at it. I’m discovering a whole new level of limits of what I am capable of doing physically—that’s what it’s all about. Tip for others: Never stop looking for new opportunities to challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to be happy! It feels great! Past accomplishments are also the Ironman World Championship, many swimming contests from 2000 to 2008 and being a part of the very first ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship for the U.S. this year!

Q: How do you manage to overcome feelings of frustration with constructive, empowering thoughts?

AS: Since my case has been since birth, for me, things are very normal. I can’t really relate to a limb loss, but I can share with others how easily and how insignificant I see and deal with my amputation.

Q: What are some athletic goals that you have yet to accomplish?

AS: Master the science of surfing! I still need to improve my skills. Surfing isn’t just difficult for amputees; it’s difficult for everyone.

Q: Describe your support system and how it keeps you going.

AS: Challenged Athletes Foundation is the big engine for me and many thousands of other challenged athletes around the world.

Q: Do you have a motto or mantra that inspires you?

AS: Life is short; we need to be out there!

Q: How do you hope to inspire others who look up to you?

AS: We’re really not that different. We’re just experiencing life like everybody else and don’t want people to feel sorry for us. I like to be treated like any other guy out there watching for waves.

Q: What can we find you doing on your down time?

AS: Taking care of my two beautiful daughters, an 8-month-old and 3-and-a-half-year-old, and my beautiful wife!

Q: Why do you believe it’s important to remain active regardless of physical impediments?

AS: Pursuing a healthy lifestyle has a ton of benefits, and it’s just wasteful to think about going through life not giving it the deserved value.

Q: Where is your favorite place to surf?

AS: My current stop-spot is Beacons-Encinitas, since I live walking distance from it! It’s a great spot, but there are many other spots around it that are as good or better.

Q: If you could be any other athlete, in whose shoes would you walk or run, and why?

AS: There are way too many great athletes to pick one.

Q: Do you have a fellow athlete you admire?

AS: Rivaldo Martins, Brazilian triathlete.

Q: What is your greatest fear?

AS: To be unhappy. I’m always making sure I can make decisions in my life that can provide happiness to me and for everyone around me.

Mellowing Out: When Andre is not surfing, mountain biking or feeding his adrenaline, you can find him playing the guitar.

Someone Hand Him a Mic! Andre likes to sing a few ballads from time to time. Beyond his adrenaline-seeking, fast-paced pursuits, he possesses a creative and innovative mind.

Native Knowledge: Andre is currently working on a prosthetic component with an innovative aspect to it, which will bring outstanding benefits when this stellar invention reaches reality. Stay tuned!

Challenged Athletes Foundation
9591 Waples St
San Diego, CA 92121
858.866.0959
C H A L L E N G E /// Accepted: Two Winning Athletes Achieve Success with the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

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