U.S. Paralympian Alana Nichols visited the local USG (United States Gypsum) plant on Monday to celebrate the Sweetwater plant's video submission in a recent company-wide contest.
Nichols competes in Alpine Skiing and Wheelchair basketball, and is the first American woman to win gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympic games.
Following an introduction by Sweetwater Plant Manager Jeff Grimland, Nichols spoke to company employees. Nichols is one of several Olympic athletes sponsored by USG and said that she has been blessed by the relationship and the opportunity to work with the company.
As she shared her story, Nichols hoped that the audience would understand that while everyone faces hardships, it's a matter of how they are dealt with.
Nichols' father was killed in a drunk driving accident when she was nine months old and was raised by her grandparents in Farmington, New Mexico. At the age of five, she began playing softball and fell in love with athletics and the desire to win.
As a result of being a good athlete, Nichols fared well in school and was given offers to play softball in college. While she grew up, her determination led her to attempt more extreme sports in her goal to "one up" the boys.
On November 19, 2000, Nichols went back-country skiing with friends. In her first attempt at a backflip, she ended up overrotating and landed back-first on a rock.
She broke her vertebrae in three places and was paralyzed on impact. Although she laid in the snow for an hour and was initially told that she would walk again, she underwent a six-hour back reconstruction surgery and awoke in the ICU to the news that she was paralyzed.
Nichols spent two years in rehab with the belief that she would walk again, but fell into a depression and mourned the loss of who she had been as an athlete. But when she saw a game of wheelchair basketball being played in her college gym, she knew her life as an athlete was not over and realized that her focus had been on the things she couldn't do or attain.
"When life throws us curve balls," said Nichols, "I think there is a choice to be made--whether you sink or whether you swim."
During her depression, Nichols shared that her grades suffered as a result. But even though she was devastated, she realized she didn't have an excuse and made the decision to take the positive route.
She started training daily to become better, which was the start of a new transition for her. The game of wheelchair basketball became a positive route, which led to opportunities which included an athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona.
"Life isn't about what happens to you, it's what you choose to do with it," Nichols proclaimed.
She ended up playing wheelchair basketball for the USA team at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic games and ended up winning the gold. And as a result of the scholarship, she earned two degrees from the University of Arizona and University of Alabama.
Following her gold-medal win, Nichols began to pursue a career in ski racing in Colorado and dreamed of competing in the Winter Paralymic games. Her continual training led to her winning one bronze, one silver and two gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver games, in which she became the first female athlete to win gold medals in the Summer and Winter Paralympic games.
"Society sees people with disabilities as sad...but none of those things are true," Nichols said. By focusing on the positive aspect of her disability, she decided to take hold of what is true.
Nichols recently competed at the 2014 Winter Paralympic games in Sochi, where she won a silver medal. She brought her medal with her on Monday, and USG employees had the chance to hold the medal.
While she competed in Sochi, she obtained a Stage 3 concussion. Although she was predicted to match or surpass her medal count in her second Winter games, she came away with the silver and the realization that life truly is unpredictable.
Nichols told the crowd that circumstances can't be about the finished result, but about the process. Because nothing is guaranteed, people have to enjoy what they're doing and create an environment that allows people to work together.
"If you focus on the positive aspects," Nichols shared, "I think amazing things can happen."
She once again expressed her gratitude to USG, who was able to send her two sisters to the Sochi games to support her. They were also able to be with her during her stay in a hospital following her concussion.
The 31-year-old also shared that even though she has six overall medals, she hopes to compete in the 2016 Summer Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro which would more than likely be the close to her Paralympic career.
After her presentation, Nichols signed autographs and took pictures with employees and guests. And not only did the video's success result in Nichols' visit to the plant, but a special luncheon catered by Blackland Smokehouse in Roscoe.
The video contest allowed each plant to share what the new logo and slogan "It's Your World. Build It." portrays. The video submitted by the Sweetwater plant was one of five winners chosen across the country.
In the video, the company's rebranding allows the local plant to take on new challenges, empowers them to create new dreams, encourages them to achieve excellence, inspires them to push beyond boundaries and enables them to participate in the things they love.
Additionally, the video features an original song written and composed by thirty-year employee Mickey O'Briant named after the company slogan.