Ouray’s Duce a medal contender in boardercross at Sochi Paralympics

Anticipation and excitement have been building for weeks in the tiny town of Ouray.

It’s not often the world sports spotlight shines on the mountain town. But next week, a Ouray native will be competing in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Heidi Jo Duce, 23, will compete with the U.S. Paralympic Snowboarding team in boardercross, which will be making its Paralympic debut this year.

Whether it’s at Steve Duce’s Timber Ridge Service Station, or at home with Becky Duce, Heidi Jo’s parents are mighty proud.

“I can’t describe it. It’s unbelievable. We never thought we’d have an Olympian let alone a Paralympian,” Becky Duce said.

Heidi Jo Duce was born with fibular hemimelia, meaning she is missing her fibula and most of the foot and ankle bones in her right leg. She had her leg amputated when she was 18 months old, then had a second corrective amputation at 19 years old.

But she didn’t allow those setbacks to slow her down.

She’s always been active in sports, including rock and ice climbing, skateboarding, mountain biking, hunting and hiking. She also competes in whitewater kayaking.

She discovered snowboarding through the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she first participated in the “Un-Limb-ited Amputee Camp” at the age of 11. In the fall of 2012, she started training with the Copper Mountain-based Adaptive Action Sports Boardercross team, then with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park.

Mom said Heidi Jo wasn’t given any special treatment growing up.

“It was hard at first, but we always treated her the same,” Becky said. “She had her chores just the same (as the other two kids). There were never any concerns at all.”

Heidi Jo Duce, who attends Colorado Mesa University, majoring in kinesiology, isn’t just along for the ride, she’s a legitimate contender for a medal in Sochi.

She placed second and third at World Cup events in Copper Mountain and Canada in January, and she has been in Europe training and competing for more than a month now.

Before departing, she expressed her excitement to the Telluride Watch newspaper in an article last month.

“This is the first time in the history of the Paralympics that it will be televised with full coverage,” Duce said. “And snowboarding is making its Paralympic debut. It’s a two-for-one.”

She’s also focused on bringing home a medal.

“I think about it every single day,” she told the Telluride Watch. “It’s pretty much the only thing I think about. Everything I am doing is in hopes of doing well at Sochi.”

Back in Ouray, the Duce family has made preparations for the big event, including securing the right cable channels to watch Heidi Jo compete. They also did one other thing.

“We bought a bigger TV,” Becky said with a chuckle.

The Paralympic Winter Games start today, and Duce is scheduled to race March 14. All events will be broadcast on NBC and the NBC Sports Network.

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