Oyuna Uranchimeg, an administrative assistant for the Emerging Media Department at St. Thomas, is representing Team USA at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing. St. Thomas Emerging Media student Justin Amaker '22 caught up with Oyuna to hear about her journey to get there.
As a communication and journalism major at St. Thomas, I know Oyuna Uranchimeg, the Emerging Media Department’s administrative assistant, pretty well. I knew she was into curling, but I never really knew how she got into it, or how long she had been doing it.
I then took Communication Studies Associate Professor Debra Petersen’s sports communication class last semester, where she invited Uranchimeg to speak to our class about her curling journey and how she has been training to compete in the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing.
The story of how she got here is tragic, and inspiring at the same time: Uranchimeg, originally from Mongolia, was visiting a friend in the U. S. when she got into a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. I remember she told our class that her injury has allowed her to stay in this country, become a citizen and become a Paralympian, which she is very grateful for.
Uranchimeg took time out of her very busy training schedule to catch up with me and talk to me about her story.
“It was about six years ago, my friend called me and said he had a surprise for me. He wanted me to come with him to this place that he didn’t reveal to me,” Uranchimeg said.
That place was Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, and when she got there, she met the U.S. National Wheelchair Curling Team, which was having their training camp there at the time.
“I met the national team and the coaches, and then I was invited on the ice to try it and see what it feels like,” Uranchimeg said. “Seeing how the stones glide and the noises they make when they hit each other, was really cool. The national team’s coach mentioned that if I was interested in the sport, and if I kept at it, there’s a really good chance I could be at the 2022 Paralympics.”
Uranchimeg began playing and joined the U.S. national curling team in 2018 after pretrials. Twelve people were selected for a skills drill and the top four were selected for the national team trials. The national team comprises eight members.
“It's not like once you join you're there forever. No. You could very well lose your spot to somebody who is upcoming and better than yourself. You have to stay up with your performance in order to keep your spot on the team,” she said.
To keep up her skills, Uranchimeg joined a couple of curling clubs in the Twin Cities and practiced every weekend.
Qualifying for an Olympic team with only six years of experience doesn’t mean this is an easy sport. Having team support is part of the game, Uranchimeg said. “When you're in a wheelchair, pushing a 42-pound stone is challenging on the ice because you slide. When we are playing as a team, we hold each other steady so you don't slide.”
When the official announcement came out as to who will make the Olympic team, “I actually cried,” Uranchimeg said. “Even though I knew like a couple months before [that I would make the team] but when that official announcement came out. I got so emotional. I cried.”
Uranchimeg said that the staff and faculty in the Emerging Media Department have been very supportive.
“You kind of structure your life around your priorities, you know, I mean right now my priority is of course work and also the curling is equally the same priority,” she said. So, she manages her schedule far in advance. “I have to schedule my month, and I can't just schedule a week ahead. For example, I have to put my training schedule together … when can I train; how many hours to train. I have to schedule those ice times with the curling club like a month ahead.”
She made plans well in advance of Beijing for work, coordinating with her co-workers and supervisors to ensure that everything runs smoothly in the Emerging Media Department while she’s out.
“I'm just extremely excited to be going to Beijing right now. This whole experience just being a Paralympian is incredible.”