Danelle Umstead Says Becoming the First-Ever Blind DWTS Contestant Is a 'Dream' Come True
The 46-year-old athlete, who has won three Paralympic bronze medals in alpine skiing, stole the show on Monday night’s season 27 premiere, earning 18/30 for an emotional foxtrot performed to Andra Day’s “Rise Up” with her pro partner Artem Chigvintsev.
Speaking to reporters after her debut dance, Umstead revealed that she’d long hoped to be the show’s first-ever blind contestant. (Umstead, who has no central or peripheral vision, was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis eight years ago.)
“In 2007, the first time I watched this show, I was holding my baby son in my arms and I was four inches away from the television screen,” she recalled. “I said I wanted to be the first blind contestant on Dancing with the Stars — I threw it out to the universe, and life did a full circle and came back and gave me my dream.”
And while she admitted she thought she was being “punked” when the offer actually materialized this year, signing up was “no-brainer.”
“It was something I always wanted to do but didn’t think I was capable of doing,” she said. “Artem is teaching me that this is possible and I’m living my possible every day.”
“This journey has been so exceptional and inspirational for me because I have never been in this situation,” she added. “Dancing is really all about being visual, and having no sense of that, it really is challenging — so much more rewarding. When you see the moves come together, it’s incredible. I’m extremely proud.”
Umstead also said that Chigvintsev has been an incredible partner so far.
“He’s not easy on me just because I have a disability,” she said. “He still pushes me. I’m a hard worker and an athlete and I want to be pushed to my vulnerable point and beyond, and he does that. He doesn’t give me any excuses and that’s what I want from a partner.”
Throughout her training, Umstead didn’t allow her husband, Rob, to watch, because she wanted to surprise him with the finished product. Just like the judges, he was blown away.
“I feel really proud,” Umstead said. “I was really vulnerable up there, but I showed my true emotions. Being the first blind dancer on the show, it’s a proud moment.”
“I’m excited and hope to show America more of what Artem has taught me,” she added. “And hopefully together we can do a lot more, because he’s an amazing coach, an amazing teacher, and I consider him an amazing friend, too.”
The Dancing with the Stars premiere continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.