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Local teacher encourages students to go for the gold

Stedman a whiz on the slopes, in the classroom
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Jennifer Stedman started her first day at E.V. Cain Charter Middle School by presenting her students with a conundrum. The game they played, called two lies and a truth, was designed to the break the ice, and teach them a little more about her. Stedman’s students had to deduct from the following statements which was the lone lie about their new math teacher among two truths. She told them she had a U.S. gold medal, has been married for more than one year and has a prosthetic leg. To help her class out, Stedman, 32, of Auburn, showed them her gold medal and held up a photo from her wedding to husband Shayne, taken just a few weeks ago. Then, she asked the students to deduct what they could about her leg, which was covered by pants at the time. From 1995 to 2002, Stedman, whose maiden name is Kelchner, was a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. In 1998, she sped her way to a Paralympic gold medal in Downhill Alpine Skiing at the Nagano, Japan games. “I lost my leg when I was 4 in a lawnmower accident,” Stedman said. “The first thing I said when I found out is, ‘when can I ski again?” After hard work, Stedman, who had been skiing with her family in upstate New York since she was 2, was eventually asked to join the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. She moved to Breckenridge, Colo. and had the experience of a lifetime on the road in Europe. “I just wanted to fulfill that goal,” Stedman said. “As a team to be traveling that much was really great and I learned life lessons on the road.” Intense conditioning and training were also par for the course. Stedman said she remembers getting up at 4 a.m. to make it to the top of the mountain by 7 a.m. The team would hit the hills until lunch time, break and go to the gym in the afternoon. Stedman trained with, and on, the same slopes as able-bodied skiers, including U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member Picabo Street. In competition, paralympic athletes face no lesser conditions. “It was such a great experience for me and now it’s something I can always share with my students,” Stedman said. “And tell them, ‘if you put your mind to it, you really can do anything.’” Stedman’s father Kenneth Kelchner, of Cazenovia, New York still tears up when he talks about his daughter’s triumph at Nagano. He said her determination and incredibly high pain threshold helped her earn the gold. “We probably hugged for five minutes. Both of us were crying hysterically,” Kelchner said. “This was 12 years in the making. This was a gold medal in downhill, you know Jennifer’s specialty.” After Nagano, Stedman went on to take third in 2002 at the winter games in Salt Lake City before retiring from ski racing. Since then Stedman hasn’t slowed down. She and Shayne, who is a math teacher at Granite Bay High School, cycle and ski together. The pair just relocated to Auburn a few weeks ago and are eager to plant their roots in the “Endurance Capital of the World.” Kelchner said when Shayne asked for his blessing on their engagement he had a little word of advice for him. “I told him, ‘you are about to take over the driver seat on the bus to Adventureland. If you marry Jennifer, you better be ready to go skiing in New Zealand or Europe sometime,’” Kelchner said. “‘That is the type of stuff she is at least going to do on her own.’” For now, Stedman said getting Shayne a passport is the first step. Until then, the couple will be trekking out on local trails and getting to know their new community. “We really love Auburn,” Stedman said. “We feel like this is a community we can really make a difference in and get involved in.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.