Note: The following has been corrected to reflect that Caitlin Gregg approached Nancy Stevens this week.
WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — When Nancy Stevens moved to Summit County, Colo., 21 years ago, her guide dog kept bringing her to the door of the same shop. Blind since birth, Stevens, 52, finally went inside and discovered that the door entered a bike-store owned by Tony Neaves. Her dog knew something. Nancy needed some work done on her tandem bike, and she needed a strong able-bodied person to ride it with her. It turned out the Neaves could do both.
“Tony was great because he would call me and say ‘Hey, I’m free this evening do you want to go for a bike ride?’ ” Stevens said. “It was so nice because I didn’t have to coordinate it.”
Thus began a relationship that would continue into 1993 when Stevens came to West Yellowstone with Neaves as her guide to try out for the Lillehammer Paralympic Games. “We didn’t know what we were doing yet, and we didn’t quite make it that year,” Neaves said.
For the next four years, the duo raced in the U.S., Sweden and Norway, and by 1998 they had built their racing communication skills to the point where the duo went to Lake Placid where they won gold to qualify for the Winter Paralympics in Nagano, Japan.
They describe the moment as the race of a lifetime, where 4,000 people crowded around a 5-kilometer loop yelling Nancy’s name. It was so loud, she had trouble hearing Neaves’ commands on their electronic communications system.
Fast-forward to May 2013, when several U.S. Paralympics Biathlon coaches approached Stevens. Fifteen years after their last race, Neaves received an “out-of-the-blue” call from Stevens, announcing that she was coming out of “retirement” to compete in biathlon in West Yellowstone. By the way, would Tony be her guide? Neaves, who now lives in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and operates the Como Ski Trails, three miles west of Darby, agreed, and the racers competed in the adaptive biathlon sprint in West Yellowstone on Wednesday.
The only woman in her class, Stevens won the 6 k race in 36:14 with 4-for-10 shooting. Disappointed with her first round, in which she missed four out of five, Stevens was pleased with hit three targets on the second stage. Overall, she was glad to be back.
On her first day in West this week, Stevens and Neaves were in the warming hut when 2010 Olympian Caitlin Gregg walked in. Another reunion was about to happen.
“Hey, weren’t you at Lake Placid in 1998 and aren’t you Nancy Stevens?” asked Gregg, who is racing in West Yellowstone this week. Gregg reminded Stevens that they had met in Lake Placid when Gregg (formerly Compton) was a 16 -year-old junior. Gregg said she would never forget Stevens, the Paralympian, taking the time talk to her give her encouragement to go for her Olympic dream.
“Really, that makes me feel so good that I could make that difference to her,” Stevens said.
Stevens hopes to compete at U.S. nationals in Soldier Hollow in January for a spot on the U.S. Paralympics team, but since she and Neaves live so far apart, she is having difficulty finding strong skiers willing to guide her in training.
“The key for blind skiers is finding a guide,” she said. “I can always find recreational skiers to ski with, but finding a guide to train with is the only thing holding me back right now.”
Interested skiers are encouraged to contact their local ski areas or adaptive sports programs to volunteer to be a guide for skiing or other outdoor sports.
FasterSkier’s Para-Nordic contributor, Mark Vosburgh lives in Missoula, Mont., where he works as a Wildfire Scientist for the US Forest Service. In addition to being a chemical engineer, Mark is a cross-country and backcountry skier, bluegrass musician, and biker. He’s also a freelance writer for numerous publications including for 48 Degrees North and MakeitMissoula.com.