Hamilton Native Tony Neaves Shares His Paralympic Experience

By MARK VOSBURGH

When Nancy Stevens moved to Summit County, Colo., 21 years ago, her guide dog kept bringing her to the door of the same shop. Blind since birth, Stevens, 52, finally went inside and discovered that the door entered a bike-store owned by Tony Neaves.

Her dog obviously sensed something about Neaves.   Stevens needed some work done on her tandem bike, and she needed a strong able-bodied person to ride it with her. It turned out the Neaves could do both.

“Tony was great because he would call me and say ‘Hey, I’m free this evening do you want to go for a bike ride?’ ” Stevens said. “It was so nice because I didn’t have to coordinate it.”

Thus began a relationship that would continue into 1993 when Stevens came to West Yellowstone with Neaves as her guide to try out for the Lillehammer Paralympic Games. “We didn’t know what we were doing yet, and we didn’t quite make it that year,” Neaves said.

Nancy Stevens and Tony Neaves

Stevens and Neaves at one of their many races leading up to Nagano. (Courtesyphoto)

For the next four years, the duo raced in the U.S., Sweden and Norway.   By 1998 they had built their racing communication skills to the point where the duo went to Lake Placid and won gold and qualified for the Winter Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan.

They describe the moment as the race of a lifetime, where 4,000 people crowded around a 5-kilometer loop yelling Nancy’s name. It was so loud, she had trouble hearing Neaves’ commands on their electronic communications system.

Fast-forward to May 2013, when several U.S. Paralympics Biathlon coaches approached Stevens. Fifteen years after their last race, Neaves received an “out-of-the-blue” call from Stevens, announcing that she was coming out of “retirement” to compete in biathlon in West Yellowstone. By the way, would Tony be her guide?

Neaves, who now lives in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and operates the Como Ski Trails, agreed, and the racers competed in the adaptive biathlon sprint in West Yellowstone.

The only woman in her class, Stevens won the 6 k race in 36:14 with 4-for-10 shooting. Disappointed with her first round, in which she missed four out of five, Stevens was pleased with hit three targets on the second stage. Overall, she was glad to be back.

Paralympic Pain Nancy Stevens and Tony Neaves

The reunited Paralympic pair, Nancy Stevens and Tony Neaves at the finish line of the adaptive biathlon race at the 2013 West Yellowstone Festival onWednesday.

On her first day in West Yellowstone, Stevens and Neaves were in the warming hut when 2010 Olympian and the winner of this year’s American Birkebeiner marathon Caitlin Gregg walked in.  Another reunion was about to happen.

“Hey, weren’t you at Lake Placid in 1998 and aren’t you Nancy Stevens?” asked Gregg.  Gregg reminded Stevens that they had met in Lake Placid when Gregg was a 16 -year-old junior racer.

U.S. Olympian Caitlin Gregg racing in West Yellowstone.  Gregg was inspired to race by Paralympians Nancy Stevens and Tony Neaves.

U.S. Olympian Caitlin Gregg racing in West Yellowstone. Gregg was inspired to race by Paralympians Nancy Stevens and TonyNeaves.

Gregg said she would never forget Stevens, the Paralympian, taking the time talk to her give her encouragement to go for her Olympic dream.

The 2014 Winter Paralympic Games will be held in Sochi, Russia March 7- 16, 2014.  Mark Vosburgh will be providing coverage of the U.S. and Canadian Paralympic Nordic teams for FasterSkier Magazine.

Paralympians Neaves & Stevens

A goal achieved: Paralympians Neaves and Stevens (second row, fourth and fifth from right). (Courtesyphoto)

Stevens and Neaves meet President Clinton

A perk of being Paralympians, Nancy Stevens and Tony Neaves meet then-President Bill Clinton. (Courtesyphoto)

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Mark Vosburgh is a fourth-generation Montanan from Boulder and a 26-year resident of Missoula. He’s worked as a chemical engineer, backcountry ski guide, and wildfire scientist. He plays in several local bluegrass bands and enjoys the usual assortment of Missoula’s great outdoor opportunities. Check out the Ski It Missoula archives for more ski posts by Mark and more local skiers.