A s a junior in high school, Jamie Stanton remembers winning the Michigan Adaptive Sports State Championship ski race by around eight seconds -- a monstrous lead compared to most races, which are decided by fractions of a second, he said.
It was after that race that Stanton realized he had a chance at competing on a national stage, and possibly someday for Team USA at the Paralympic Games.
Before that ski race in 2011, Stanton hadn't given competing against disabled athletes a second thought. He skied and golfed for his high school teams, acting as captain of both his junior and senior years. As far as Stanton was concerned, his prosthetic right leg didn't make much of a difference to his athletic performance.
"Everyone I competed with was not disabled in any way," he said. "Everything growing up for me was completely normal. School, friends, everything."
Stanton wasn't the only one to notice his massive lead at the state championships that year. National Sports Center for the Disabled competition center director Erik Petersen gave him a call, and asked him to spend a week training in Colorado.
That week was all it took to convince Stanton to give up his Rochester, Mich., lifestyle and head west.
"Without me having that week, I don't know if I would have moved out there," Stanton said, adding that the support he found through the NSCD blew him away.
He applied to the University of Denver and was awarded the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship, a scholarship given to a disabled athlete, often a skier, which pays for most of Stanton's academic expenses.
When Stanton was six months old, doctors amputated his right leg after diagnosing him with fibular hemimelia, or a growth deficiency of the fibula. This same diagnosis was given to South African runner and 2012 Olympic standout, Oscar Pistorius. Stanton skis with a prosthetic right leg, which he said he replaces often because it breaks when he's training or competing hard.
As a freshman, Stanton spent his first semester on campus before moving to Winter Park to train with Petersen and other NSCD coaches, while taking his classes online. Stanton was named to the 2012-2013 U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Development Team last September, which meant he was one step closer to his goal of competing at Sochi in 2014.
Stanton trains with other paralympic standouts and medallists such as Gregory Peck, Gerald Hayden and Stephen Lawler. They spend five days a week training on the hill, watching film and strength training in the weight room.
So far this season, Stanton has already garnered a slew of medals and top-10 finishes, including a gold medal for the men's giant slalom race at the Winter Park Open in early January.
"Giant slalom is my favorite event," Stanton said. "Honestly, I got some new skis for Christmas and the skis are awesome. I get the best training in GS and when it comes to race days, my mind just gets into a whole new mindset and I just go out there and rock it."
Stanton's coach Petersen was once himself an aspiring professional skier -- he wanted to be "the next Lindsey Vonn, from the men's side, of course," Petersen said. After coaching in Breckenridge and for the U.S. Ski team for more than a decade, he volunteered one Christmas season to work with disabled athletes.
"The first day I walked in I was wondering what I was doing," Petersen said. "At the end of the day, I felt like I got hit in the rear end for being so ignorant. I had a 180 degree jump and realized how appreciative all the athletes I worked with were."
He's been NSCD's acting head coach for the last eight years, and has worked with many paralympic medallists, but that's not really how Petersen measures his success as a coach, he said.
"The medals are great, but really it's changing people's lives, that's where I do my job," 47-year-old Petersen said.
When the two met, Petersen said Stanton didn't really consider himself a disabled athlete because he'd been competing with and against his able-bodied high school peers.
But now, Petersen said he can see the drive Stanton has to become the best adaptive skier in the world. Petersen said he's about "90 percent sure" that Stanton will compete for the U.S. in Sochi next winter.
After working with Stanton for the last year and a half, Petersen said he's been impressed with the 18-year-old's poise and maturity, and said he hopes his own 12-year-old son grows up to be as "genuine" as Stanton.
"He's one of those kids that you wish your son would grow up to be like," Petersen said.
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.