Visually impaired skier, ‘DWTS’ contestant speaking Thursday at UNK

KEARNEY – Imagine skiing down a mountain at 70 mph.

Now imagine what it’s like to do that blind.

Danelle Umstead
Danelle Umstead

Paralympian Danelle Umstead says she “lives the impossible” every day as a visually impaired alpine skiing champion.

Umstead will speak 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 21) as part of Disability Awareness Week at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Her presentation in the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room is free and open to the public.

A three-time U.S. Paralympian, Umstead was diagnosed at age 13 with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes severe vision impairment.

After her father introduced her to adaptive skiing in 2000, Umstead met her husband Rob, a former collegiate skier, and they began competing together as Team Vision4Gold. With Rob serving as her guide, Umstead won two bronze medals at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was named athlete of the year by the National Sports Center for the Disabled.

Then she found out she also has multiple sclerosis, a nerve disease that paralyzed half her body. After learning how to walk and ski again, Umstead was back on the slopes. She was named the 2011 adaptive athlete of the year by U.S. Ski and Snowboard and earned another bronze medal at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Umstead, who has four medals from the World Para Alpine Skiing Championships, also competed in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and she was the first visually impaired contestant on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

A resident of Park City, Utah, the 47-year-old and her husband travel the world as ski racers and motivational speakers.


Disability Awareness Week is sponsored by the Collegians for Integration and Accessibility student organization, UNK’s Academic Success Offices and the Division of Student Affairs. All events are free and open to the public.

Monday, Nov. 18
2:30 p.m. – “Autism 101,” Jamie Lewis, special education coordinator at Educational Service Unit 10 (Nebraskan Student Union Antelope Room)
7 p.m. – “Spina bifida,” UNK students Christian Mikulecky and Gavin Myers (Copeland Hall Room 130)

Tuesday, Nov. 19
11:30 a.m. – “Everyone’s Role with Mental Health,” UNK Counseling and Disability Services for Students (Antelope Room)
7 p.m. – UNK student and alumni panel (Copeland Hall 130)

Wednesday, Nov. 20
2:30 p.m. – “Cerebral palsy,” UNK student Rylee Hill (Antelope Room)
7 p.m. – “The Invisible Struggle: Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,” Emaly Ball (Copeland Hall 130)

Thursday, Nov. 21
12:30 p.m. – “Bringing Invisible Illness to the Forefront,” UNK Peer Health (Antelope Room)
7 p.m. – Paralympian Danelle Umstead (Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room)