James Stanton steps onto the stage, watching as the crowd full of his family, teammates, and coaches wave the American flag and scream his name. “Bronze medalist, United States of America,” is announced as the 23-year-old steps up to the podium, bows his head, and the medal is draped over his neck.
In that moment Stanton officially became a 2018 Paralympic medalist.
“The medal ceremony was by far the coolest moment of my entire life,” Stanton said. “It was really a dream come true.”
It had been almost a month since it happened when our interview was conducted but Stanton’s excitement was still there. It hadn’t quite sunk in yet that he was now part of medal-winning history.
Stanton won bronze in slalom, but also competed in the super combined, giant slalom, and super-G event at this year’s games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Like all athletes though, his journey to the 2018 Winter Paralympics began long before that.
Growing up in Rochester Hills – something he is very proud of and where Stanton said his competitiveness was born – Stanton got his first experience on skis when he was only three. He played able-bodied sports most of his life, ranging from hockey to swimming to basketball, and varsity golf and varsity skiing while at Rochester Adams High School. Even though his right leg was amputated below the knee when he was only six months old, that never deterred him.
“I would always find a way to compete in the sport,” he said. “There was a little bit of adaptation sometimes, but nothing that stopped me.”
He wasn’t introduced to the paralympic scene until 2011, when a friend persuaded him to enter the Michigan Adaptive Sports State Championships ski races, where he won back-to-back titles.
“I just thought it would be a good opportunity to kind of test myself against other disabled individuals to see what I had, and where I stacked up against them,” Stanton said.
Stanton became a breakout star.
He would go on to receive the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship – a five-year, full ride that benefits disabled athletes – from the University of Denver. He also received the university’s prestigious Freshman of the Year Award in 2013.
Then, during his sophomore year, he earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic alpine skiing development team. This led to his first Paralympics in 2014 at Sochi, which didn’t go as well as planned. His best place was sixth in the super-G. After that, his whole training regime changed, including his diet and how he took care of his skis.
“I knew that in order to end up on the podium in PyeongChang, I was going to have to do all those things and not just do them, but do them with a purpose,” Stanton said.
During the years between the 2014 and 2018 Paralympic Games Stanton won multiple World Cup slaloms, among other recognitions.
He was ready for PyeongChang.
“I had been skiing slalom particularly, and skiing in general, a lot better than in Sochi,” Stanton said. “I think we knew that I had a better shot at a medal.”
Now that he has medaled does the future hold another Olympics? Stanton isn’t sure.
First, he has to get through a two-year analyst program at Citigroup in New York, which he starts in mid-July.
“I think at that time, we will make a decision if we’re going to come back and try to defend a medal or stick with the career,” Stanton said.
Photo: Michael Clubine