Subhead: ‘Girls Night Out’ Saturday Fundraiser to Help Pay Her Way
OURAY – Heidi Jo Duce has never been one to let a little thing like a missing leg get in the way of a good time. The 22-year-old Ouray native, whose right leg was amputated below the knee when she was still a baby due to a birth defect, has always marched, backpacked, kayaked, ice climbed and snowboarded to the beat of her own drum.
Now, she hopes that bodacious beat will lead her all the way to Sochi, Russia, to compete in snowboarding at the 2014 Paralympics.
Duce begins training full time at Copper Mountain Ski Resort next month with the goal of qualifying to become a part of the first-ever USA Women’s Paralympic Snowboarding team. She will be competing in various high-level competitions throughout the winter, culminating in the U.S. Nationals hosted by Copper Mountain in early April. Duce will need to be ranked as one of the top three females in the country in order to earn a berth in Sochi.
This Saturday evening, Dec. 2, Duce’s local fan club hosts a fundraiser at the Wright Opera House to help her get closer to her Paralympic goal. The evening promises to be as spirited and sassy as Duce, herself. Billed as a Girl’s Night Out, it features the movie Magic Mike (based on actor Channing Tatum's real-life experiences as a male stripper), followed by a live bachelor auction.
Bachelors for hire include Heidi’s father and brother (Steven Duce Sr. and Jr.), Clint Estes, Eric Fagrelius, Scott Fedel, Darin Fletcher, Cory Jackson, Adam Kunz, Trevor Latta, Travis Manley, Dave Turner, Kyle Schoenebaum and Danny Wilbur.
The services these manslaves will offer up include bread baking, hunting, house painting and stuff fixing, car repairing and washing, guiding and climbing, plumbing, tree trimming, carpet cleaning, Pilates training and jeeping.
“Ladies, bring your dollar bills, your honey-do list, and let's go crazy for Heidi!” said one of Duce’s many fans who has helped to organize the event. All proceeds from the bachelor auction, and a portion of the door sales and concessions, go toward Duce’s cause.
It’s an 18-and-over affair, and admission is $10. Magic Mike Martinis will cost you extra. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The movie starts at 7 p.m., and the bachelor auction (a misnomer since a lot of these guys are actually already married) gets underway at 9:15 p.m.
BORN TO BE WILD
Duce has been hooked on snowboarding since she was 11 years old. She learned how to ride at an adaptive sports camp in Utah sponsored by the Shriners, which she attended for six years in a row.
While kayaking is actually Duce’s “favorite thing in the entire world”, snowboarding ranks a solid second. The two sports complement each other seasonally, and they have something in common that Duce loves – gravity.
“I am a big fan of sports that go with gravity,” she said. “I really like to go fast.”
Duce has been para-snowboarding at an elite level for the past year with a team based in Park City, Utah. When the word came down earlier this year that the International Paralympic Committee had accepted snowboarding as an official sport, she committed to training for the Paralympics with Team Utah alongside her friend Nicole Roundy, an above-the-knee amputee who is the No. 2 ranked female adaptive rider in the nation.
Then the Copper Mountain-based Adaptive Action Sports Boardercross team approached Duce to train with them instead. AASB is captained by Amy Purdy, a double below-the-knee amputee and the USA’s top female para-snowboarder.
“After a lot of debate and talking to my coach, I decided that the AASB team was a better fit,” Duce said.
When she moves to Frisco next month, Duce will go into full-time training mode at Copper Mountain resort with Purdy and about 10 other elite amputee riders. The regimen includes 20 or more hours per week of on-snow training, as well as training-specific CrossFit workouts four nights a week, designed to develop speed and balance.
With only three slots on the USA Women’s Paralympic Snowboarding team, competition will be savage. “We have to race against each other four or five times this season, and that will determine who ends up on the team,” Duce said. “With a lot of work, I have a really good chance. I am ecstatic, but so nervous.”
This kind of training doesn’t come cheap, costing about $15,000 per athlete. AASB will pay for a lot of it, but Duce is in the market for sponsors to help out, as well. She already has a small sponsorship, through a snowboarding company in Aspen, but she’s still on the hook to raise about $3,000 to cover her living and travel expenses this winter.
To that end, she has recently set up an online giving site at http://www.gofundme.com, and hopes that this Saturday’s Ladies Night Out fundraiser will go a long way toward covering the balance.
Duce is excited about the fundraiser, and absolutely humbled by the enthusiasm her hometown community has shown as she pursues her Paralympic dream. “I can’t begin to explain how thankful I am for this community and their support,” she said. “I am so grateful. I am dumbfounded.”
Duce, a Ouray High School grad, is pursuing a degree in adaptive physical education at Mesa University, and minoring in psychology and outdoor recreation. “When I’m done, I really want to work with people with various levels of disability,” she said.
Although it means she’ll have to take time off from school, her parents (Steve and Becky) and siblings (Eva and Steven) are all squarely behind her new adventure. “They are very excited,” she said. “I was planning to take the semester off either way. My original plan was to go to South America and kayak and run waterfalls, so when this came along they were kind of relieved.”
Duce doesn’t seem to fully “get” the positive effect she has on others – her sunny go-get-’em attitude, her spirit of adventure, her matter-of-fact relationship with her artificial leg.
“I don’t think I’m all that inspiring,” she said. “I definitely never viewed myself as disabled because I never knew any different. I’m not really adapting, because this is the only way I’ve ever known how to do it.”
And, she points out, life may not have taken the particular twists and turns that landed her where she is today, poised to become a Paralympic athlete, were it not for her missing leg.
“Being an amputee is the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” she said. “Every time you go ice climbing or kayaking or snowboarding, you have to put on gear to get you down the hill or down the river. I just use a different set of gear than everyone else.”
Part of her gear includes a brand new, top-of-the-line prosthetic leg. “I just got it a week ago, and l love it so much!” she said. “The foot is made of carbon fiber and titanium. The shell is aluminum and fiberglass. I’ve already noticed a huge difference. I’ve started running again.”
Duce marvels at how prosthetics technology has evolved over the years. She’s been through well over 30 legs in her short lifetime. “My legs now look like robots compared to what I had when I was a baby.”
Her newest leg cost about $17 grand. “It should last about four years,” Duce said, “But in reality, it won’t last that long. I’m hard on my equipment.”
Samantha Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @iamsamwright