Using a pair of outriggers - crutches with ski tips - one of Ashland's top downhill skiers raced down Mount Ashland on one leg, leaving Alex Frol, who also skis one-legged but not by choice, in the dust.
Using a pair of outriggers — crutches with ski tips — one of Ashland's top downhill skiers raced down Mount Ashland on one leg, leaving Alex Frol, who also skis one-legged but not by choice, in the dust.
Ashland alpine ski coach Gary King wanted to send a message, and Frol received it loud and clear: Yes, competing with a disability is "cool." But if Frol wanted to reach her true potential, to be the best skier she could be, she would have to push even harder.
"You've got to realize," King told her, "part of this is athletic, too."
That training session and countless others helped shape Frol, an Ashland High sophomore, into a state qualifier in the giant slalom and slalom. She gave up her spot in the slalom to allow teammate Madelyn Getzoff compete, but finished 83rd out of 100 in the GS and 89th as an alternate in the slalom March 1 at Mount Hood.
"I thought I did pretty well in the slalom," Frol said. "Usually my giant slalom is the better run, but the slalom was better for me at state. I think it was because I was more aggressive."
Born without a right leg, Frol, 16, began skiing as a 10-year old.
Initially, Frol's greatest obstacle wasn't shredding to the bottom of the mountain, but learning how to stop once she got there. There were crashes, bruises, cuts, scrapes, but always more skiing.
When asked if she ever considered hanging up her skis, Frol says no way.
"I just got really frustrated when I kept falling, but I didn't want to stop. It was kind of freeing because I got to go as fast as I wanted."
With the help of Mount Ashland staff members who made sure her equipment was always available and ready to go, Frol began skiing competitively by age 12. Her first race didn't go as planned — Frol face-planted, lost a ski and tumbled "through a gate or two."
It hurt, but not enough to discourage Frol, and definitely not enough to scare her away from the sport.
"My first race was fun, even though I got a bloody chin," she said. "But I finished, which was the fun part."
Frol continued to improve while skiing for Mount Ashland Racing Association and this year set a lofty goal: qualify for the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association state meet, and beat at least one person.
To do that, she would have to get faster, something that would require hard work, pain and at times frustration.
Early on, King tried to prepare Frol for the hardship to come with a heart-to-heart talk.
"I knew right away that communication was a key, and that she was going to have to accept that there were things that we could do that she couldn't do," he said. "Also, I told her, 'If you join the team, you have to work hard,' and she had to be ready for that."
She was, but the journey to state was as difficult as King predicted and required a closer look at the unique challenges that face a one-legged skier.
One big challenge that became apparent during her training was Frol's limited range of motion in her left leg. The average person, explains King, can bend their knee about 12 to 18 inches while performing squats. Frol's bend was far less: four to six inches, not nearly enough to handle a bumpy course with the speed and precision necessary to qualify for state.
"In skiing," King said, "you're using the technology of the ski to accelerate you into a turn. By increasing her strength and balance we're going to allow her to take a tighter line and make a faster run down the hill."
So King introduced Frol to the sled machine. And a box. At first, she could only hop onto a two-to-three-inch step. Now, Frol's bouncing up and down onto an eight-inch box.
"In my mind," King said, "I'm thinking, how hard can I drive her with her limitations, yet push her harder than she's been pushed before."
King continued to ask himself the same question every step of the way, and Frol was always up for the challenge.
"Her work ethic was fantastic," King said. "She's out there doing the races. She knows she's not as fast as the other kids, but she dearly wants to be. If there's (frustration), I don't see it. She doesn't show it."
That attitude gave King a little ammunition when it came time to motivate the rest of the troops.
"It's an inspiration," he said, "and it helps with stopping the whining. If she can do it on one leg, they better not be complaining about doing it on two legs."
After qualifying for state, Frol turned into a celebrity of sorts at Mount Hood.
During the coaches' meeting prior to the races, King asked if Frol could get the first crack at the mountain. That would require her skiing out of order, but the other coaches agreed that watching a one-legged skier take on Mount Hood could be just the thing to inspire the other state qualifiers.
As she prepared to fire out of the gate, coaches and athletes alike flocked to the starting line to see Frol make Oregon history (she is believed to be the first disabled skier to qualify for state).
"When she came up," Getzoff said, "she had this look, this glow of pride, and it must have made everybody want to try that much harder."