Meet the Inspiring Team USA Athletes Living Their Impossible at the Paralympic Games
Perhaps Team USA's best-known winter Paralympian
, Purdy won a bronze medal in Sochi for snowboard cross and then went on to come in second place on Dancing With the Stars
. This year, Purdy, who had both of her legs amputated after being diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis at age 19, hopes for a gold medal in the same event.
The four-time Paralympian is an alpine monoskier who has won six medals overall, two in each hue. Stephens, who was born with spina bifida, will compete in five events in hopes of adding even more medals to her collection: the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G and super combined.
Masters is a non-stop Paralympian: She's competed at every Summer and Winter Games since 2012, and PyeongChang will mark her fourth. Making Masters even more impressive is that in each Olympics, she competes in two different sports. In the winter, she does cross-country skiing and the biathalon, while in the summer she's a rower and a cyclist. Masters, who was adopted out of a Russian orphanage and suffered birth defects linked to the Chernobyl disaster, is a double amputee: She had her left leg amputated at just nine years old, and her right leg at age 14. Now, she hopes to inspire others: "Change doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen in a blink of an eye," she tells PEOPLE. "So you've got to start somewhere, and baby steps."
PyeongChang will mark Kunkel's Paralympic debut, and she'll be the youngest athlete competing for Team USA. The alpine skier is 16 years old.
Also on the snowboarding team is Huckaby, who had a leg amputated at 14 years old following a cancer diagnosis. She's one to watch in PyeongChang, coming into the Games with a lot of buzz around her name. She won two gold medals at the 2017 World Championships in snowboard cross and banked slalom. "I just work extra hard on the skills and movements people tell me are 'impossible,' " she told NBC Olympics. "It takes me a lot longer but I get it, and when I do achieve it, it's sometimes better than an able-body."
He's only 25 years old, but Pauls already has two gold medals under his belt: for sled hockey at the 2010 and 2014 Paralympics. This year, he's set to serve as the team's captain, according to the BBC
. He hopes — after winning his third gold medal — to be a professional hockey coach.
Before becoming a Paralympian, Schultz was one of the world's best snowmobile racers. It was an accident in that sport that he lost his leg, and has since turned to snowboarding. He's hoping to bring home two gold medals in PyeongChang, but admits that he'd be "pretty pumped to bring home two medals of any color."
The only married couple on Team USA's Paralympic roster, Rob will be serving as Danelle's guide in the PyeongChang Games. Danelle, an alpine skier, is blind in both eyes, and has been since age 13. She was also diagnosed with MS shortly after competing in Sochi. Her husband has been her guide since 2010. She will compete in several races in Korea, including the downhill and slalom.
Strong is the reigning Olympic champion in snowboard cross, and in PyeongChang he'll also compete in the banked slalom. The father of one says that he's never let the loss of his leg prevent him from succeeding in sports. "Missing your leg is a big thing to overcome when you think of body image in sports," he told NBC Olympics. "But I never let it hold me back. I can't change it, so I do the best I can with the cards I have been dealt."
You may recognize Dodson's name from the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, where he competed as in Nordic skiing. This time, he'll be on the sled hockey team.
At 26, Kurka is making his second Paralympic appearance in PyeongChang — and this time he's a medal favorite: He won a gold, silver and bronze at last year's World Championships. Kurka says that sheer dedication is what got him to the Games. "With dedication, hard work and the ability to push themselves past their limits," he said. "I think too many people give up. Simply not giving up is the biggest key to any Olympian/Paralympian."