Eighteen-year-old Paralympic medalist Maggie Behle's new spikey purple haircut was almost hidden by the huge bouquet of flowers presented to her in honor of "Maggie Behle Day" at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School.
Behle's accomplishments on the ski slopes, including two bronze medals won at the 1998 Paralympics in Nagano, Japan, were celebrated Tuesday by her classmates and teachers at the private school.Born without a right leg, Behle started skiing when she was just 5 years old and has been a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team since she was 13, competing in races around the world.
This season she traveled to Japan to race in the Paralympics, the international sports competition for disabled athletes that followed the 1998 Winter Games, and came in third in the slalom and downhill events.
Students gathered for a school assembly Tuesday got a chance to see a videotape of Behle's Paralympic performance, including the ceremonies where her medals were draped over her then-blond head.
The students whistled and cheered for their classmate, especially when the flower-laden skier suggested from the stage that next year's "Maggie Behle Day" should be a school holiday.
Behle was praised by teachers and administrators for her drive and discipline. The school's ski coach, Olle Larrson, said disabled skiers are an inspiration.
"They are so inspiring in terms of attitude. I think the term disabled misrepresents the group of athletes," Larrson told the assembly. "If anything they should be called heroically abled."
Behle isn't the first Rowland Hall student to compete at a world-class level - Olympic medalists Picabo Street and Hilary Lindh also attended the school. But Behle is the first to win international recognition while still in school.
She hopes to race here in Salt Lake City in the 2002 Paralympics. "Right now I'm planning on it, yeah. I think it'd be really great to ski in my home town," Behle said.
But she still has another year of high school to finish, thanks to all the time taken off for competitions. After that, Behle said she'd like to teach English to high school students in Japan.
"I'm going to take a year off before college and just do my own thing," she said. Japan is her first choice because she said she felt at home as soon as she arrived there last month for the Paralympics.
"I'd never been there before," she said "Everybody was so kind and nice . . . it was really fun. It was really neat to be immersed in another culture."