Bountiful native Paralympian Nicole Roundy found freedom, passion in snowboarding

Published: Friday, March 7 2014 10:20 p.m. MST

Nicole Roundy

joe kusumoto photography

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles profiling the Utah athletes who are competing in the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, this month.

BOUNTIFUL — Nicole Roundy loved the idea of three-track skiing.

“But I didn’t like the limitations,” said the Bountiful resident, one of six Utahns competing in the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi this week. “I was 16, and I just wanted to be independent. I wanted to do everything by myself. I saw snowboarding, and I thought, ‘I should be able to do that.’”

But when she asked about it, she was told it would be impossible for her.

Roundy lost her right leg above the knee when she was 8 years old in a battle against bone cancer (osteogenic sarcoma).

“I can remember certain things,” she said of her fight with cancer. “I remember most of the positive, happy things. My mom and siblings remember the hard stuff.”

The youngest of six children, Roundy wanted anything other than being babied. Without a knee, prosthetics only allowed her about a 20-degree bend in her leg. She tried basketball, volleyball and other adaptive sports when she was young.

“I tried to be involved as best I could, but I was always too slow,” she said. “I always got tired before everyone else. So I was the benched athlete or the water girl. I tried, but I just couldn’t keep up."

Which makes it a bit ironic that she’ll compete in one of the fastest, most exciting racing sports on snow — snowboard cross. But just getting a shot at snowboarding took a special kind of determination.

“They said, ‘Oh, you’re missing your knee, and you’ll never be able to do that,'” she said of the response she got when she asked about snowboarding the first time. “Or, if you do it, you’ll never be good at it. I actually had to wait for two years. We were waiting for somebody to give me a chance. There weren’t any prosthetics you could use at the time for snowboarding.”

Roundy was introduced to skiing and snowboarding through a camp at Shriners Hospital. While she enjoyed three-track skiing, she wanted something that she could do on her own, something that didn’t require her to take off her prosthetic. She saw snowboarding as that opportunity, but it took her time — and the determined innovation of someone else before she could even try snowboarding.

Jarem Frye, who grew up in Utah and now lives in Oregon, also lost a leg to childhood cancer, and he also got his start on three-track skiing. But because of his desire to try other sports, like telemark skiing, he started trying to modify his own prosthetic with automotive valves and shock absorbers. Finally, with the help of a machining student at BYU, he developed a prototype in 2000 that allowed him enough mobility to turn almost as if he had two legs. Once he moved to Oregon in 2006, he started a company called Symbiotechs USA, which is when Roundy found his creation.

When she finally got her chance in 2006, she didn’t look back. She also didn’t have to worry about being compared to anyone else. Roundy became the first above-the-knee amputee to compete in snowboarding.

“The great thing about snowboarding was that there was nobody else doing it,” she said. “So whether I was good or not, it didn’t matter. I think it was kind of exciting to be the first person to take something and actually compete.”

Her first moments on a snowboard, she admits, were promising to no one but her.

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