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From Mongolia To Minnesota, Oyuna Uranchimeg Is Living A Paralympic Dream

by Stuart Lieberman

Oyuna Uranchimeg looks on during wheelchair curling competition against Team Norway during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 7, 2022 in Beijing, China.

 

BEIJING – As she wheels her way around the Paralympic bubble in the Chinese capital, Batoyun Uranchimeg exudes a feeling of tranquility wherever she goes and to whomever she speaks with.
Calm, cool and collected, the 48-year-old lead on the U.S. wheelchair curling team is handling every experience — from the local cuisine to delivery robots to the Paralympic souvenir shop — as if she’s been here before.
Yet when asked about it, she shares the perspective of a rookie, exposing a feeling of self-surprise. 
“I was just a mom raising kids,” she said. “Never in a million years did I imagine I’d be here, yet alone a competitive athlete representing Team USA. Not in my wildest dreams.”
Originally from Mongolia, Uranchimeg, who goes by Oyuna (or just O for short), was visiting a friend in the U.S. about 22 years ago when she was involved in a serious car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her injury kept her from returning to Mongolia and her then 6-year-old son, who she wouldn’t have with her in Minnesota for another eight years until she became a U.S. citizen. 
But she believes if she didn’t have a child, then she probably would have been gone the day of the accident. 
“A parent with a child can’t die,” she says.
Her family all applied for visas to the U.S. but got denied. And this was in 2000, when cell phones weren’t common and there was no social media, leaving her to use only international calling cards to contact them. She had to whisper in their conversations, as her vocal cords were weak following her accident. 
“At the time, when the accident happened, nothing was certain. Everything was very uncertain,” she said. “I was in a foreign land, away from my family and everything I knew. It was a really hard time of course, but I figured it out with the help of a lot of people who helped me along the way and supported me.”
She ended up staying to build a life in the Twin Cities, working at the University of St. Thomas and ultimately raising her two children there. Her son is now 27 and her daughter 21. She’s always happy to boast about her daughter’s neuroscience degree and aspirations for medical school as she studies for the MCAT, and she lights up when talking about how her kids are following her journey in Beijing.
“They are extremely happy and so proud that their mom is a Paralympian, and I hope they are getting inspired and I’m setting a good example for them to go after whatever their own goals in life are,” she said.

Oyuna Uranchimeg competes in a wheelchair curling round robin match against China during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 8, 2022 in Beijing.

 

Uranchimeg was never into sports growing up, and even after her injury she only tried wheelchair basketball once before “getting busy with life.”
Then six years ago, a friend asked her to “lunch,” which was a disguised invitation to bring her to the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minnesota, where the U.S. wheelchair curling team was holding a training camp. They didn’t end up eating lunch, but Uranchimeg wheeled on the ice that day, and five years later found herself making her world championships debut in the sport. In 2021, she helped the U.S. finish fourth at the event and earn a last-chance spot at the Paralympic Winter Games 2022.
The U.S. wheelchair curling team got off to a slow start this week at the National Aquatics Centre, opening with a 1-3 record before battling back to 4-4 with a win over Latvia on Wednesday. With two round-robin games to play, Team USA is right in the mix for the fourth semifinal spot.
Win or lose, Uranchimeg is embracing the full experience. And when not on the ice she can be found at the Athletes’ Village thinking well beyond what’s playing out in the venue known as the “Ice Cube.” She’s hoping her presence in Beijing is being seen by others and motivating them to take the initiative to better society in their own lives, particularly in her native Mongolia where her siblings and extended family still reside. 
“I don’t think I would ever move back because I already built my life in America,” she said. “But I’ve had this goal to do something to improve the accessibility situation in Mongolia, to help improve the quality of life for people with a disability there." 
“Since I was born and raised there, my heart is always in Mongolia. When I go back and visit, I see how bad the conditions are for wheelchair users. They can’t even work or go around to the store by themselves. If there is anything I can do to improve the situation, I’m going to try to help.”
For now, though, as a loyal friend, devoted mother and intense lover of milk chocolate, Uranchimeg is at peace where her life has led her. 
“I’m proud that I was able to build a normal life for myself and for my kids, and to finally be here at the Paralympics representing Team USA,” she said. “I can’t ask for more in life. This is incredible.”

 

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Paralympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.


Stuart Lieberman has covered Paralympic sports for more than 10 years, including for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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