More Than An Inspiration: Para Wheelchair Curler Oyuna Uranchimeg On Resilience And Who Inspires Her
by Lisa Costantini
Oyuna Uranchimeg poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Paralympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, Cali.
You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
"That quote really resonates with me," wheelchair curler Oyuna Uranchimeg shared. "If I was able-bodied and I saw someone like me now, I probably would think I don't know how she does it. But then I experienced it myself, and I had no choice but to get through it."
Twenty-two years ago, Uranchimeg came from her home country of Mongolia to visit a friend in the United States and was in a serious car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
It's something she doesn't regret.
"I have one hundred percent acceptance of the things that happened to me," the 48-year-old said. "I believe that we all have a destiny. You can't travel on two different paths at the same time. So whatever path you choose — or whatever path is given to you — you have to accept that and make the best of it."
Before her accident, Uranchimeg lived in Mongolia, working as an interpreter in a "very typical life."
While curious about what her life would have been like had she not been injured, she said she is grateful for everything it enabled her to do.
"If I weren't injured, I wouldn't have gotten to stay in this country and become a citizen of this beautiful place that I now call my country. And I wouldn't have become a Paralympian," she said.
Oyuna Uranchimeg (R) and David Samsa (L) compete during the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championship on Oct. 27, 2021 in Beijing
Six years ago, when she first took up the sport of curling — having never heard of it before —she could have never imagined she would one day make her Paralympic debut in it.
The five-person U.S. team secured their spot for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 after taking fourth at the 2021 world championships in October, their second-best finish after taking bronze in 2008.
In Beijing, they are looking to medal. Something the program has yet to do.
Their highest finish to date was just off the podium in 2010, where they finished fourth. In PyeongChang, they landed in a disappointing last place.
Having seen their competition at worlds — where Uranchimeg made her world championship debut — she said they are on a mission to bring home a medal from Beijing. "We know what the game field is going to look like, and we are determined to medal," she said.
While her team is mainly made up of first-time Paralympians — except for vice skip Steve Emt who competed at the Winter Games in 2018 — Uranchimeg looks to them for inspiration.
"Every single one of my teammates inspires me," she said. As the only two women on the team, she looks to alternate Pam Wilson as somewhat of a role model.
"I admire Pam. I look at her and all that you can accomplish in life — regardless of your age," she said about her 66-year-old teammate. Wilson was also injured in a car accident that left her partially paralyzed.
Pamela Wilson and David Samsa compete in the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championship on Oct. 23, 2021 in Beijing.
In addition to curling, Wilson also competed in swimming, track and field, and basketball — and even was a national skiing champion, all following her accident. At one time, she contemplated the Paralympics. She decided on medical school instead, becoming the first medical student in the country to do a residency at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in a wheelchair.
"Pam put herself through medical school and became a doctor," Uranchimeg revealed. "I can't help but be inspired by her. And I want to be just like her at her age!"
As an athlete who has lived more than half her life in a wheelchair, Uranchimeg realizes she inspires others.
"People don't live their lives to inspire others," she said. "It's just people find other people's stories inspirational.
"But I don't see myself as any different than anybody else, whether you're able-bodied or not. We all have the same struggles. Everyone is just trying to get through."
For Uranchimeg, she's just trying to get through Beijing right now. After that, she said she hopes to be at the Winter Paralympics in Italy in 2026, where wheelchair mixed doubles will debut.
"I only started curling about six years ago," she exclaimed. "Now is not the time to quit."
The Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 begin on March 4.
Lisa Costantini is a freelance writer based in Orlando. She has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications, and has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.