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Colorado Quarterly Magazine 

"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"


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True Grit

by Jesse Shinagle

 She has skied some of the toughest mountains in the world against some of the toughest competitors. Along with triumph and success, she has also known disappointment and adversity during her career. Two years ago she was ranked first heading into the Nationals competition in the Upright Aerials category when, on the last day of training, she dislocated her hip on a nasty spill that left her unable to compete and retain her ranking.

Lauren Rainen is team manager of the University of Colorado freestyle ski team. She is one of their top skiers, attaining a level of success that allows her to compete in several events including Moguls, Dual Moguls, Aerials, Upright Aerials, Big Air and the Halfpipe.

It proved to be a long road back for Lauren after suffering her hip injury. “For the next year I couldn’t even visualize jumping because I would always visualize what had happened. Since that time it has been a great challenge for me to get myself to even go off the jumps. It’s been a process for me to get back to where I was, though it has been very rewarding.” Rewarding, because Lauren went back to Nationals the next year and summoned the courage to do what she once thought was the impossible—compete in Nationals and take first place in the Upright Aerials, becoming the 2002 National Champion. “It is getting through the tough times that push you further,” Lauren said.

The strength and determination that Lauren displays on the mountains are the strength and determination that her sister must show everyday. Lauren’s sister, Piper Rainen, cannot go skiing with Lauren. Nor can she enjoy any of the other outdoor activities that Lauren so revels in. Born three months premature, Piper had to start showing courage and determination from the day she was born.

After spending her first three months in a hospital incubator, she was diagnosed with Basal Cell Syndrome, a genetic condition that can involve multiple defects and lead to multiple problems. Most notably there can be no exposure to the sun. If exposed, Piper can develop skin cancer that leaves lesions on her body that would have to be removed through painful surgery. “Her whole life is compromised by her conditions. She is not able to live the life of an average person. She can’t play outside with the other kids. She has to have protective UV covering on the windows of any rooms she is in. The list goes on. My sister also, often times, has a hard time relating with her peers. They don’t always understand her and her differences,” said Lauren.

Despite all the hardship and difficulties that Piper has had to endure, she has managed to triumph and show the same indomitable spirit that her sister has shown while skiing for the University of Colorado. This spirit has left her with a list of accomplishments all her own. Limitations not withstanding, Piper went through standard public schooling and graduated with an “A” average. She now is continuing to further her education by attending college near Kansas City, an accomplishment not lost on Lauren. “My sister fought the odds and made it through. She really showed me the possibilities. She showed me what we are all really capable of, and that I really can do it. She has given me this value that I use everyday in life and in skiing.”

In May Lauren will graduate from the University of Colorado. She plans to spend most of next year concentrating on skiing. This summer she plans on spending time with Piper.

Although Lauren credits Piper with giving her the willpower, strength, and determination that has guided her to success in her skiing and throughout her life, she says that this is not the greatest lesson Piper has taught her. Rather, it has been a lesson in love. “My sister is an incredible person with an ability to love beyond anyone I know. She has given me insight into a world that I don’t know if I would have seen otherwise. She gave me a capacity to care for others so deeply. She also gave me a new appreciation for what I have. I think one of the most important things my sister made me see is that, although she is different, she is still amazing and beautiful in every way. We are all a little different in our own ways, and she made me realize how amazing and beautiful we all are.”

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Copyright 2002 A&H Publishing Corporation