Danelle Umstead is blind.
Danelle Umstead has Multiple Sclerosis.
These three facts pose an unlikely juxtaposition, but one that is familiar to many Paralympic athletes. With enough grit, the impossible is possible. Placing complete faith and trust in her husband, Rob, Danelle follows him down the racecourse around the gates. Rob dons a headset and fires off directions, helping her anticipate every move. Danelle additionally relies on her hearing and feels her way down the mountain, calculating and reacting to every nuance of the snow to remain on course and nail her transitions.
- Danelle Umstead
The sky darkened after filming drone footage atop a mountain peak
For this 14-hour shoot I would need the following:
• Feet small enough to jam into Danelle’s ‘race fit’ ski boots (luckily, mine are small).
• The willingness to squeeze into a skintight spandex ski racing suit.
• Looking really, really ridiculously good looking (from the back only).
• How to correctly board a snow cat.
• The wherewithal to stand on a windy mountain peak in jeans for an extended period of time while completely ignoring a drone overhead and acting ‘stoic’ but also blind.
• General knowledge and experience around alpine ski racing.
• To appear as if I were a legitimate alpine ski racer while skiing around gates. At night. In pitch darkness.
• The stamina to wear aforementioned spandex and race fit ski boots from 9PM to 12AM on a frigid and windy night.
The Comcast Corporation sponsors Team USA and planned to air a commercial highlighting Danelle’s story in the weeks leading up to the 2018 Paralympic events in Pyeongchang, South Korea. My main role would be to ski in the darkness to simulate what it’s like for Danelle when she’s rocketing down the slope. During the daylight hours, I would serve as a body double for the shot sequence of clicking into the racing skis and the drone footage of Danelle on a mountaintop.
A busy crew and fancy cameras!
Looking downhill, the sight of illuminated gates and the racecourse
Freezing but laughing
The spotlights created a dramatic backdrop, simulating Danelle’s incredible feat of skiing without vision.
A few short weeks later, all the hard work of the crew came to light as the Comcast commercial featuring Danelle’s bravery, courage, and determination shone on television screens across the nation. It was an honor to suffer through an evening of midnight spandex ski racing to convey a small fraction of the energy and fierce determination that Danelle has invested to get where she is.
It was a delight to meet Danelle between takes, she was such a warm person with an incredible glow and energy about her. I’d recently started volunteering with the Wasatch Adaptive Sports Program, and meeting Danelle showed me what adaptive athletes are capable of. I’m wishing her a very successful stint in South Korea and I can’t wait to follow her story and watch her ski!