US Paralympian Brittani Coury dares viewers to stare as she goes for gold

(Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Brittani Coury is not a quitter, and with the snowboarder on the precipice of her second Winter Paralympics, her resilience has never been more evident.

It’s been a busy four years for Coury since she took home a banked slalom silver medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. The 35-year-old has not only been training for the Beijing Olympics, which begin Friday with the opening ceremonies, but she’s also been working on the frontlines during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as a registered nurse.

“I don’t give up and I don’t quit, and I am not one to turn down something that is super hard no matter what it is. If somebody says I can’t do something, I’m the type that tries to prove them wrong,” Coury tells Just Women’s Sports.

That mentality led the Team USA athlete to the COVID-19 tents during one of the most precarious times of the pandemic. She said she “felt it was her responsibility” to help those in need.

“It takes a village to send an athlete to the Games, and I’ve had so many amazing experiences. I’ve snowboarded five continents, and this was my opportunity to take care of that village,” Coury says. “This was my opportunity to give back and to show my community that I care about them and that I am willing to put myself on the frontlines even if they have no idea who I am because I am in full PPE.”

While working as a nurse, Coury called upon her own experience as a patient, when she recovered from an operation to amputate her lower leg at 25 years old.

“My journey through amputation and as a patient helped me have that empathy for my patients,” says Coury, revealing that she rarely left her patients’ side in an effort to lift their spirits. Lovingly referred to as “DJ Covid,” Coury was known to play Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” along with other top-40 hits for her patients.

“Your patient can read you. If you’re freaking out, your patient is going to freak out because they can feel that tension,” she says.

While Coury gets a lot of joy from her work as a nurse, she is the first to admit that clocking 12-hour shifts is no easy feat. Her time on the hospital floor, she believes, helped prepare her for the Paralympic Games.

“As a nurse, there is a lot of pressure. Somebody’s life is literally in your hands, and the decisions that you make can change that patient’s conditions one way or another. It’s the same on a course — there is a lot of pressure,” Coury says. “There is a lot of cross-training for me because it’s both physically, mentally, emotionally hard and draining, either on the floor or on the snow. But I love both of them,.I love snowboarding, and I love being a nurse.”

Heading into her second Paralympics, Coury has harnessed everything the last four years has thrown her way and is ready to channel it on the slopes. Coury is expected to compete in both the banked slalom as the reigning silver medalist and the snowboardcross event.

While the snowboarder has her sights set on the podium, winning isn’t her only goal.

“I’ve trained as much as I can, I’ve done everything I can do to this point, I’ve put in the time and energy. And whatever happens on that day, I can look back and say that I have done everything up to this point to get me where I am, wherever I end up falling,” Coury says.

“For me, I have a mission statement of what I am wanting to accomplish. Medals are great, but if I can impact one person’s life in a positive way for me, all the blood, sweat, tears and everything was worth it.”

Coury is hopeful her partnership with Citi’s #StareAtGreatness campaign will help make her Paralympic ambitions of meaningfully impacting lives a reality. The company’s initiative features a roster of 15 winter Paralympians, including Coury, with the aim of changing perceptions of people with disabilities.

“That commercial is out there, and it’s bringing awareness of women and what we are capable of doing, and disability and breaking down stigma. So, if I go to the Games and I don’t end up on a podium, at the end of the day, I am so proud of my success and I am proud of the progression of the Paralympics and all the awareness that’s been brought,” Coury says.

For Coury, the #StareAtGreatness message doesn’t just pertain to Paralympic athletes; rather, it’s a valuable lesson for everyone.

“My disability I wear on the outside, people can see it, but everyone has amputations — internally, self-esteem, whatever their amputations are. Mine’s just visible.” she says. “We’re all people, we all have damage, we all have things that we’re dealing with, and if we’re able to share that and put a positive light and show people what we’re able to overcome, that’s why we are human. That’s why we have the ability to communicate, is to bring each other up.”

Inviting people to stare, Coury hopes, will also encourage people to revel in her athletic ability and inspire others to embrace their aspirations of greatness.

“What society says about you or what the world says about you or what the bullies say about you, it’s not true,” she says. “The only thing that’s true is what’s in your own mind and what you think is true. You create your own reality.”

Coury kicks off her Olympic journey with snowboardcross qualifying on March 5. The event finals are set for March 6 at 10:30 pm ET on NBC.

Clare Brennan is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.