Dani Aravich made her Paralympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games in track and field, representing the U.S. in the 400m T47. Six months later she'll compete in Nordic skiing at her first Winter Games. Born without her left hand and forearm, Aravich was encouraged by her parents to get involved in athletics, first in soccer, then distance running. She was a Division I cross-country and track and field athlete during her first year at Butler University, then while working for the Utah Jazz was approached by a family friend who suggested training for the Paralympics.
As part of our preparation for the 2022 Games, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to multiple athletes to learn more about their lives on and off the snow or ice. Here’s what we found out about Aravich:
Dani Aravich, Nordic Skiing
Events: Cross-Country Skiing and Biathlon (LW8 / Standing)
Birthplace: Boise, Idaho
Hometown: Boise, Idaho
Residence: Bozeman, Mont.
Past Games: 2020 (Summer)
Family & Upbringing
Tell us about your family.
"The only child of Rob and Kate Aravich, had me playing sports at a young age. Parents met in Pennsylvania, married in 1993."
Where does your family come from?
"Dad's family heavily Lithuanian, mom's family European mutt."
How influential were your parents in your athletic aspirations?
"Despite being born missing my left hand and forearm, parents encouraged me to play sports like everyone else. They never let me use the disability as a crutch."
Did you attend college?
"Butler University, Class of 2018. Majors in marketing and entrepreneurship, minor in political science. Division I cross-country and track and field athlete, collegiate club soccer."
Do you have another job?
"Always dreamed of having a career in professional sports, and after successful collegiate internships with the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts, landed my dream position with the Utah Jazz and made the move to Salt Lake City after graduation. Worked at the Jazz for two years before leaving to pursue own athletic pursuits.
"Now work as a social media coordinator at a marketing agency in Bozeman, as well as a casting assistant for Salt and Lime Media. Still have several freelance clients, including my favorite local bar from my time in Utah, O'Shucks in Park City."
Do you have any pets?
"My family raises springer spaniels for field trials and hunting. We have one house dog name Nanuq – the Alaskan Inuit word for 'polar bear' – who is a cockapoo and the best thing to ever happen to our family."
Top spots in your hometown?
"If you ever go to Boise, Idaho, I suspect you assume you will see tons of potato farms. You won't. You need to check out Westside Drive-In and try an ice cream potato – just trust me. Take a hike around the foothills. Go on a walk around the river. Check out the blue turf at Boise State. And you'll probably go to the shooting range."
How has your hometown shaped who you are today?
"Boise was the best place to grow up. I had such a strong sense of community, a love for the outdoors and appreciation for potatoes."
Where else have you lived?
"Extended family lives around the Philadelphia area and I always go back and visit – my favorite U.S. city. My mom used to work in Glacier National Park and my family travels there almost every year, my parents now plan on retiring to northwest Montana. Mom grew up in The Hague, Netherlands. Very special to her.
Lifestyle & Training
Typical training day?
"For ski season, I am waking up at 6:30 a.m. I am making coffee, spending the morning to stretch and enjoy eating without feeling rushed to get to the mountain by 9. Load up the skis, dust off the snow, and off we go. Coaches assist ski prep and we check our training plans for the workout. After a few hours, we head back down, eat lunch, rest, I work and then head to either our gym or to the indoor shooting range for practice.
"Ski training days are much longer than my track days, and I am pretty worn out by the end of second practice. Some days I may have a physical therapy appointment or a chiropractor. I may head out to dinner with a friend, and even splurge on a glass of wine."
How much time to you train and sleep?
"In ski season, I would estimate 25 hours a week, so three to five hours a day! I try to get eight hours a night."
What's your favorite workout?
"My favorite ski workout is biathlon combos, where you focus on a certain intensity of a ski loop followed by shooting a clip at the range!"
What's the most grueling workout you've ever done?
"The most grueling ski workout I have ever done is whenever we have to do L4 or L5 intervals nearing our max heart rate!"
Surprising things regarding training for the Paralympics?
"I think people assume we train and exercise way more hours than we do, but in actuality the recovery piece of training is just as long if not longer – and more important."
Any out-of-the-ordinary or experimental training?
"I use a lot of techy recovery tools from Hyperice to aid in my recovery. I have also experimented with Whoop technology to analyze my sleep and recovery."
Experience during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?
"I was living in Salt Lake City at the time training for Tokyo in track and field. I was able to continue running, but gyms were closed down so my strength training took a big hit."
Have you ever been seriously injured?
"I dislocated my knee cap for the first time in 2014, before my first cross-country race in college, since I have been dealing with extensive knee pain and more dislocations. I plan on getting surgery after Beijing to repair the tendons on the knee."
Any nutrition plan? (e.g., calories, meals)
"I used to follow a very strict nutrition plan, now I am more flexible with my eating and less restrictive. I try to hit all my needs during the day, but if I want ice cream or a beer at the end of the day, I am never going to say."
"Wine and mini cupcakes."
Reflection & Paralympics
Earliest memory of playing sport?
"I only started Nordic skiing at the age of 23! But I have been downhill skiing since I was 2. We have photos of my mom holding me with a leash on the mountain. My mom has a funny memory where she had me skiing with my prosthetic arm on, and on the lift, other mothers were giving her grief for not putting a mitten on my left hand since it was cold. She laughs and says, 'it isn't a real hand!'"
Earliest memory of watching Olympics or Paralympics?
"We just moved out of Salt Lake City when the Olympics and Paralympics were there in 2002. Jeret Peterson was from Boise, and I remember watching him ski jump as the hometown hero when I was little."
Memories from 2008 Olympics?
"I remember watching Michael Phelps, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. I was 12 years old and started seeing how special the Games were."
Specific breakthrough moment?
"I first tried out Nordic skiing in December 2019, and three weeks later, the coaches convinced me to compete at nationals. I somehow won both of my races and started talking to the coaches about qualifying for the 2022 Games. Kind of a crazy conversation to have considering I just had started skiing three weeks prior!"
What would you change about your sport?
"I wish that we could use [.]22[-caliber] rifles like the able-bodied biathletes rather than air rifles."
Who is your coach?
"Nick Michaud was the first one to help me at the first camp I went to. Flash forward two years later, Nick is still my coach and has become one of my closest friends.
"We understand each other at such a deep level that sometimes he doesn't have to even say a word and I know what he is thinking. We know when it is time to get down to work and be serious, and when we can sit there and laugh about nothing. He has been able to make me think more intricately about my sport and be creative in my training. He is the perfect mix of being helpful, yet also lets me take ownership of my own training."
Who do you socialize with most within your sport?
"Our team for Nordic is extremely close. Out of season, I hang out with Drew Shea and even hang out with our director Eileen Carey, since we all live in Bozeman now year round. I go out to San Diego to visit Lera Doedelein and her family a lot."
Most interesting teammate?
"Kendall Gretsch, she is a silent killer. Seems so shy at first, but is one of the funniest people I know. Also one of the smartest people I know."
Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist?
"Yes, great experience understanding how my anxiety related to racing."
Big obstacle that you've overcome?
"Giving up a traditional career to take a leap of faith and train full-time without the financial security I once knew."
Biggest fear when competing?
"Disappointing those who invested in me."
Paralympic role model?
"Oksana Masters. She has competed in four different sports and grinded away. I am hoping to make the leap to a new summer sport in the future, so Oksana is a great role model to have."
Summer Olympic buddy?
"Since I am a summer athlete, I was lucky enough to become very close with many of the Para track and field athletes. Most of my time in Tokyo I got to hang out with my two best friends (Jaleen Roberts and Brittni Mason), as well as new friends like Hunter Woodhall and Nick Mayhugh."
Greatest influence within/outside sport?
"The person who most paved the way for me is Sarah Carey. Sarah has a daughter, Annie, who also competes in Para track and field. Sarah is from Boise and heard about me, helped me navigate the Para track system, and introduced me to Beth Ann Chamberlain, our developmental Nordic coach. Would not be here without Sarah."
Advice you'd give a young athlete?
"It is scary to be new at something, because you are going to be bad at it. Patience is hard, but it will all be worth it."
Best part of living in the Paralympic Village?
"Unfortunately, my first athlete village experience was during the pandemic, so there was so many riles in place. We did not get to interact with as many countries as I was hoping for."
Play any other sports?
"Track and field."
Which Summer Olympic/Paralympic event would you like to try?
Ever been told you wouldn't succeed?
"I was told that starting a new sport two years before the Games was not enough time, and I wouldn't be ready to qualify."
Any pre-competition rituals?
"Hugs from coaches."
How did you discover adaptive sport?
"Through the grapevine! I competed in able-bodied sport until I was 23."
Tell us about your impairment.
"Born missing my left hand and forearm."
Passions & Personality
Any teams/athletes from others sports that you are a fan of?
"I love football, I used to work for the Colts! Peyton Manning is my hero – my dream is to meet him someday!"
Do you have a nickname?
"'Dan' or 'Dan Dan' – most people use this! My coach calls me 'Whiteclaw.'"
How do you unwind after a competition?
"Reality TV binge and candy."
Please describe any tattoos.
"State of Idaho on my ankle – I am proud of where I came from. Wasatch Range on other ankle – mountain range in Salt Lake City, Utah, my favorite range and my favorite places to ski."
Do you collect anything?
"Teacups! When I first travelled to Europe I started collecting."
Do you support any charities or nonprofits?
"NubAbility Athletics – work as a volunteer coach. National Ability Center – work as a volunteer and ambassador. Shriners Hospitals for Children – volunteer, former patient and ambassador."
What would you do if you weren't an athlete?
"First female GM of an NFL team."
Do you have any fears or pet peeves?
What is on your bucket list?
"So many things, but soon I want to be able to buy my first house."
Personal motto/inspirational quote?
"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. — John Wooden"
Woman that inspires you?
"I am inspired by Tanja Kari, multi-gold medalist in Para Nordic skiing from Norway who first started coaching me when I started in the sport. She is the most decorated winter Paralympian of all time and an all around badass."
"Hiking, camping, photography, modeling, happy hour, traveling to national parks, skiing, ice skating and rollerblading."
Music of choice while training?
"'Kill The Lights' by Alex Newell; 'Am I a Psycho?' by Tech N9ne; 'Hard in da Paint' by Waka Flocka Flame; and 'Dirt Off Your Shoulder' by Jay-Z."
"Western girl at heart; cowboy boots, fringe, hats, denim, cow hide."
Five must-have items in your gym bag?
"AirPods, body spray, wallet, keys and Gatorade."
If you could hear from one celeb, who would it be?
"Peyton Manning or Jimmy Fallon."
What is favorite meme/GIF that best describes you?
NBC Olympics Research contributed