Legally blind skier an uplifting story
This isn’t a sad story. It isn’t. It isn’t one of those stories, one of the stories that are supposed to mean something, to say something, to show something bigger and grander about “sports and the society we live in.” No unthinkable tragedy occurs in this story. No one dies here.
It’s just a story about a girl who likes to ski.
The girl’s name is Lexie Jordan. A few months ago Lexie was having lunch with her dad after finishing a run during a junior ski team event at Sundown mountain up near Hartford, Conn. Lexie is 12, lives in North Salem and skis for the Thunder Ridge team, and she had been the first racer down the course that day because she always is the first racer down the course. It is one of the only concessions the racing tour makes to the fact that Lexie is legally blind.
Understand, she doesn’t want your pity. This isn’t about that. Lexie was born with albinism, a genetic anomaly that affects about 1 in 20,000 newborns. Because of it, her skin is pale, her hair is milky and her vision is in the neighborhood of 20/400 (meaning that what a full-sighted person sees at 20 feet she sees as being more than a football field away). Most skiers are taught to look four or five gates ahead during a race; Lexie struggles to make out one or two. By rule, she is allowed to follow another skier down the hill and track their path; she’s not interested. She could also compete in events with other visually impaired athletes; she’d rather not.
“I know it might sound crazy,” Lexie says, “but I like my vision. I was raised to accept who I am. I’m not angry, I’m not mad. I’ve got a great life. And I want to compete here.”
She started skiing seriously about a year ago, and this was her first season with Thunder Ridge. The team competed in a series of regional events all over the Northeast, and Lexie’s goal was simple: Don’t finish last. At each event, the skiers compete in the Giant Slalom (where the gates are spaced farther apart) and the slalom (where tighter turns are required); Lexie posted better times than other racers on several occasions but was rarely able to make it through both events without missing at least one gate, meaning that, technically, she was disqualified.
“I only fell down one time all season, though,” she says cheerily. “I thought I’d fall a lot more, and other kids definitely fall, but I only went down once. That’s pretty good!”
For most of the season, her visual impairment wasn’t known by racers and parents from the other teams; she was just another kid wearing ski suits and snow pants and goggles. But Jenna Pogozelski did know. She had heard another skier talking about it and watched Lexie ski a run at Thunder Ridge with tears in her eyes.
Jenna is a few years older than Lexie, a freshman at Cheshire High School in Connecticut. She is arguably the best skier on the junior circuit. “She has so many medals,” says Lexie’s brother, Liam. “She wins everything.”
Jenna skis for the Sundown team, and so, on the day that the tour was at her home mountain, she walked through the cafeteria looking for Lexie. “I actually sort of followed her for a little bit,” Jenna says, “because I wanted to get myself together and make sure I knew what I wanted to say. I went past her a few times. It probably looked weird.”
A few moments after Lexie and her father had sat down to eat, Jenna approached. She introduced herself – “I mean, I knew who she was,” Lexie says – and then she held out a medal. It was a silver medal from a race that Jenna had won at Thunder Ridge – Lexie’s home mountain – back in January.
“I’m totally inspired by what you’re doing,” Jenna, her lip quivering, told Lexie. “And I think you deserve this medal more than I do.”
The fear, says Karen Jordan, is exactly what you would expect. As a mother, Karen worried that her daughter would always be seen as different. That people wouldn’t be able to get past her skin and her hair and her need to have reading assignments blown up to size 26 font. That was the fear. The reality, Karen says, isn’t anything close. Lexie has friends. Lexie acts in school plays (she just did “Oliver”). Lexie used to be a cheerleader. “She isn’t an outcast at all,” Karen says. “And a lot of it is because of who she is. Her attitude, her personality.”
It’s “an incredible perspective,” her dad, Chris, says, that allows Lexie – at age 12 – to be realistic about what matters. “How many 12-year-olds do you know who wouldn’t care about winning a race?” Chris says. “She doesn’t want to beat everyone. She just wants to beat someone. She knows what is important to her.”
Ask Lexie if she ever gets angry about being visually impaired, and she laughs and says, “Angry? Why would I be?”
Ask Lexie what her dream is, and she says, matter-of-factly, that she’s “given this a lot of thought: I want to go to Georgetown and become a lawyer, because I think I’m pretty persuasive.”
Ask Lexie if she ever thinks about dying her hair as a way to make it less noticeable, and her eyes go wide. “Oh, no,” she says. “I love my hair! People come up to me all the time and tell me how much they love it.”
Then she mentions that, nowadays, you see rock stars and celebrities dying their hair to get it the color of Lexie’s. Singer Gwen Stefani, for example. “I would never dye my hair,” Lexie says. “I mean, never.”
Earlier this winter, the Jordans were on a family ski trip at Stratton Mountain in Vermont. There was heavy snow falling, and it was a “whiteout,” with so much precipitation that it was almost impossible for anyone to see.
Because of the conditions, Karen told Lexie that it would probably be better if she didn’t ski that day; it was too dangerous. “She wasn’t interested in that,” Karen says. “She knew she’d be careful and she knew she’d be fine. And you know what? She was. It was a reminder that I need to back off sometimes. She’s fine. She really is.”
That is what Lexie wants, what she focuses on. There are actually benefits, she says, that come with having one of the body’s senses lessened and others heightened; her memory, for example, is nearly photographic. “I once forgot my math homework at home,” she says, “but I was able to prove to my teacher that I’d done it because I remembered all of the answers. So I just said them out loud.”
She laughs then. “Not bad, right?” she says, and then she laughs again.
“She just has fun with everything,” Liam says.
It is something to admire. There is no time for sorrow with Lexie, no time for frustration. She’s just a girl who likes to do things, to try things, to experience things. She’s just a girl who likes to ski.