She can't move her legs, but she rocks the slopes
Paralympian Alana Nichols calls them "pinch-me moments," when she can't quite believe she is actually in a particular situation.
Like when she rolled down the red carpet at the ESPY Awards. Or rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Or when she spoke at schools for Michelle Obama and spent the day traveling in a motorcade with the first lady.
And especially when she received her gold medal in wheelchair basketball at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. And again when she captured two more golds in sit-skiing at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics.
All this, she never could've imagined after being paralyzed from the waist down in 2000. She was attempting a backflip on her snowboard.
That's why when she talks to disabled children, her message never wavers: This is just the beginning.
Maybe she didn't buy that back then. But she embraces it now.
These days, the 31-year-old Nichols is even taking on a new challenge. It's sprint kayak racing, which will make its debut at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. She is retiring from basketball and putting her skiing career on hold in an effort to make the team.
"When you believe in something, it creates the possible," said Nichols. "That's the most important thing imagining it can happen."
Her life was altered on Nov. 19, 2000. She lives in Denver, and all that summer she imagined doing a backflip on her snowboard. So when snow blanketed the mountain near Durango, Colorado, she eagerly headed into the backcountry.
On her first try, Nichols over-rotated and landed on rocks, shattering her spine in three places. Emergency workers had to airlift her out, and she went through months of rehab
Fast forward to the fall of 2002. She was taking classes at the University of New Mexico. She saw a group of wheelchair athletes playing 5-on-5 basketball. Not just playing, but playing fierce and fouling hard.
Perfect for her.
"All of a sudden, I didn't have an excuse to be bummed out and lazy," she said. "I was challenged."
She made 2004 Paralympics team as an alternate. She got her shot in Beijing in 2008. She was a shooting guard who charged down the lane with no fear.
While training for Beijing, a thought hit her. Why not try skiing, too?
One day, she vocalized her aspirations to ski coaches. She said she wanted to train even more aggressively to make the Vancouver squad.
"As any logical person would, they said that wasn't possible, having only had limited days under my belt," she recalled. "But I had a childlike faith I could do it."
She did, too. She won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze in Vancouver.
She was back in the starting gates for the Sochi Games last winter, taking silver in the downhill. She then wiped out in the super-G. She suffered a dislocated jaw and got six stitches in her chin.
A few days later, she returned for the giant slalom. She took fourth place.
That kind of resolve recently earned her induction into the "Superman Hall of Heroes." it honors people who make a difference in the lives of others each day.
This summer, Nichols spent some time in Hawaii and dabbled in surfing. Turns out, she is a natural. She won the first contest she entered.
"When you're newly disabled, you think life's over," Nichols said. "But when you believe in your possibilities, anything can happen.
"I've had a lot of pinch-me moments."