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A Utah woman partially paralyzed in a skiing accident in 2006 has won the first national para-reining competition, held Dec. 6 in Oklahoma City.

Lara Oles, who lives in Heber City, volunteered as a ski patrol member in Wyoming until a serious skiing accident in Colorado damaged her spinal cord. The injury left her left arm paralyzed and gave her stroke-like symptoms in her right leg.

As part of her therapy following the accident, she began taking equestrian lessons at the National Ability Center in Park City.

“I fell in love with this sport,” she said about reining, speaking to KSL TV. “I got to embrace my inner cowgirl. … You can’t even do it without smiling the whole time.”

Reining is a Western riding event in which the rider and horse perform intricate circles, spins and stops. “These reining horses are so well trained,” Oles explained. “They are a perfect vehicle for people with disabilities.”

Hopes for the Future

Even before her reining victory, Oles had already established herself as a fixture in the Utah equestrian community as the state’s first internationally ranked para-dressage competitor. She began training in dressage after being inspired by the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

“I guess I never really excelled at anything before this,” Oles told KSL. “I’m probably [in the] top 20 para-riders in the U.S. It’s kind of cool. It gave me something to live for.”

As for the future, Oles has her eyes on the Olympic rings. She hopes to compete in dressage, the only equestrian event in the Paralympics, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She’ll vie for one of the four spots on the U.S. team in March of 2015.

But she also hopes that reining will be added as a Paralympic sport sometime soon.

“It’s funny how you adapt when things happen because you don’t really have a choice,” she said, referencing her accident and subsequent immersion in the equestrian world. “It’s amazing what you can live through. You have no idea how strong you are until you don’t really have a choice.”

Staying Safe on the Slopes

Oles suffered severe injuries, but not everyone involved in similar accidents is so lucky in their recovery. Skiing can be a dangerous sport, and it’s a good idea to keep a few guidelines in mind to prevent or reduce the impact of injuries incurred on the slopes:

  • Train and warm up: Casual skiers who don’t exercise year-round should start training at least six weeks before a ski trip. Once you’re on the slopes, take one warm-up run before pushing your abilities.

  • Layer your clothes: It’s easy to underestimate the cold, especially when you’re warmed by movement. But hypothermia and frostbite are very real dangers.

  • Gauge your abilities: Don’t take on courses that are too difficult for your skill level. If you get stuck, you risk not only yourself, but also rescuers who come to your aid.

  • Don’t obstruct the trail: Be aware of geography and how it might hide you from skiers above you.

  • Don’t underestimate injuries: If you do get hurt, see an appropriate practitioner as soon as possible. Chiropractors deal with the health of the musculoskeletal system (nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons), and may be able to help relieve pain through spinal adjustments. Physical therapists can help you recover function after an injury. Oles went through a full year of physical therapy to regain her current movement abilities.

By Staff