Feeling empowered by the Summit

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Alana Nichols, right, joined the Summit stage with Elena Hight to discuss the upcoming Sochi Olympics and Paralympics.

DANA POINT, Calif. -- I've never seen an audience look as uncomfortable as the one at the espnW Women's + Sports Summit did on Thursday during Julie Foudy's Power Talk. It was a pivotal (and hilarious) moment when she demanded that everyone show their "best, worst dance" to the person sitting next to them.

Now, obviously that puts everybody in a terribly awkward situation. What to do? And did we really have to do it? I turned to the woman next to me and said, "Well, here's my 'best worst dance' -- it's twerking in a wheelchair," and gave it my all. It was funny, but I could also see, in that moment, it made my neighbor see me as just an average person who's making fun of herself. I love Julie, and this moment sort of summed up the we're-all-here-together-as-one feeling I've had this whole Summit.

Courtesy of Alana Nichols

Alana Nichols said she appreciated Gabby Reece's advice on post-competitive life.

I first felt it on opening night Wednesday, when we saw the video compilation of everything women have done this year in sports. It was such a powerful collection of clips that I teared up -- and I realized I was in such good company here. I felt like, these are my people, and there's nothing like the feeling of belonging, especially to a group of such powerful women.

One of those women was former volleyball player Gabby Reece. Listening to her talk Thursday about her experiences and those little tricks she learned along the way showed me a lot about how I want to live my life after my own athletic career is done. Those are the priceless things I've taken away from the Summit.

My own athletic hero is Patty Cisneros, a two-time Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair basketball and the captain of our team in Beijing. She was the first woman I met after I became disabled in a snowboarding accident when I was 17. She showed me that anything is possible and I could not only be an active athlete, but also a gold medalist and someone who is empowered by my disability, not a sideliner who sits by because of it.

One of my dreams is to show other young women and girls that they can be athletes, even if they're in a wheelchair -- just as Patty did for me. This dream has been solidified by being here at the Summit and seeing other athletes, like Julie, who have retired and gone on to mentor young women.

We are all inspiring one another here, and it's so incredible to be a part of this movement of women who've come so far, but also have a vision for the future and can see how far we have to go. I just consider myself so fortunate to be able to continue to play sports, and if I get to inspire people, that's just the frosting on the cake.

A lot of what I've learned here empowers me as an athlete to take control of my identity and who I want to be. That underlying confidence is going to help me when I'm at the top of the downhill in Sochi, shooting for gold. And, of course, it also gave me the courage to try twerking in front of a total stranger!

Alana Nichols, a Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair basketball and alpine skiing, is the first American woman to win gold in both the summer and winter Paralympic Games.

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