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Diana Golden carves out glittering athletic career on one ski

Just because Diana Golden ski races brilliantly on one leg is no reason to call her ``brave'' and ``courageous.'' Besides, she can't stand the words. She says they have nothing to do with winning four gold medals in last year's world championships for the disabled nor with sweeping every event in her division at the recent 16th annual National Handicapped Ski Championships, by margins of up to nearly 12 seconds.

Like many of the 135 racers who qualified for this year's nationals at Attitash, N.H., Golden looks beyond what others view as a handicap. When she uses the word, in fact, she usually adds a quick ``quote-unquote.'' As if to illustrate her point, she now trains 12 months a year ``to see how far I can go'' against able-bodied skiers.

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``I'm not out there because I'm brave and courageous,'' says the pert 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate from Lincoln, Mass. ``I'm out there because I want to go fast, and I want to win. [``Brave and courageous''] put a false image on you that if you're not careful you'll start to believe, and that puts false pressure on you.''

It was at age 12 that Golden was told she would have to lose her right leg above the knee because of a serious illness. Her first question was: ``Can I ski again?''

As a young, able-bodied girl growing up outside Boston, she had loved to ski weekends with her family at Cannon Mountain, N.H. Although somewhat competitive, she says she was ``klutzy'' to the point of being picked on or ignored by classmates. ``When I throw a ball,'' she warns, ``you don't want to stand behind me.''

When she finally returned to school, it was as a kind of heroine. ``I came back a lot more confident because who is going to pick on `a poor girl who's lost her leg.' So it brought out other things in me that hadn't been able to come out before.''

Diana's energies became focused. She went from being ``smart and quick'' to also being a worker and ``studier.'' After undergoing handicapped ski instruction, she continued to ski with her family, and in her junior year the high school ski coach invited her to work out with the team. It was a watershed in her life.

``Instead of separating me from the other kids, it brought me together with them.'' She began to train dry-land as well as on-snow, and she learned what it takes to run a mile on crutches in under 14 minutes.

By the time she attended Dartmouth, Diana was putting herself through rugged training - hopping up Memorial Field grandstand - and attending racing academies whenever she could. In 1981 she won the national handicapped downhill and the slalom and in 1982 the giant slalom and slalom.

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Then came the ``hardest decision I ever made.'' She quit racing to find out who she was. Racing had become ``such a powerful motivating force that it was almost a negative one, so that my skiing was something I did to get that respect from everybody.'' She says it took a couple of years to overcome the depression that arose from having ``nothing to make me famous anymore.''

``But it gave me time to find my identity apart from my skiing so that when I came back to skiing it was something I wanted to do for me and not because I needed that image from other people.''

After a 2-year layoff she returned to competition with an awesome singleness of mind and purpose. ``Just standing in the starting gate gave me that old feeling. Here was something I could really give myself to,'' she says. With moral support from her family and her fianc'e - she plans to marry this August - Golden won the downhill at the 1985 US handicapped nationals and the giant slalom at the Canadian nationals.

In 1986 she became convinced that with all her strength and balance training she could go faster with regular ski poles than with ``outriggers'' (poles with ski tips instead of points), which ``three-track'' skiers traditionally have used. She worked long and hard with coaches like Herman Goelner at Aspen, Colo., and US Disabled Ski Team Coach Homer Jennings, and attended Carrabassett Ski Racing Academy at Sugarloaf, Maine.

It took awhile to master, but by the time she reached the world championships at Salen, Sweden, Diana was seconds ahead of everyone. She won gold medals in downhill, slalom, giant slalom, and combined. The US Ski Association honored her with its annual award for best international performance by an American ski racer, and the US Ski Writers Association gave her its outstanding competitor award - two unprecedented tributes to a disabled athlete.

Her vivacious presence and charm have made her a sought-after spokesperson for the disabled. She enjoys speaking, and audiences love her. But for now she is driving herself - both literally and figuratively - from race to race on the USSA amateur circuit to see how well she can do against two-legged racers. She admits it takes a lot more energy when you're finishing near the bottom instead of seconds ahead of everyone. If her energy and ability to get career-supporting grants and contributions hold out, she says she may compete through 1990, including next year's world disabled championships.

Eventually, she might coach, but not ``specifically the disabled. I would love to see more quote-unquote disabled people involved with regular programs. I think it's really important.... It's good for us. It pushes us.... It's good for able-bodied racers too.... People who have a quote-unquote handicap are separated enough as it is.''

Sports group for disabled

The National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association, originally a group of Vietnam war veterans, has evolved into a multi-purpose organization administering programs for some 10,000 persons from 5 to 75 years old. The Denver-based group has 45 chapters in 28 states and offers year-round instruction and activities in snow and water skiing, physical fitness, swimming, scuba, sailing, canoeing, river rafting, tennis, hiking, horseback riding, and other leisure-time pursuits. For 16 years its rigorous winter competition programs have culminated at the annual National Handicapped Ski Championships, where teaching and racing clinics are held and selections made to the US Handicapped Ski Team.

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