BIG BEAR LAKE — Diana Golden finished 40th and last in the women's slalom at the 1989 U.S. National Ski Championships, 13 seconds behind co-winners Tamara McKinney and Diann Roffe on both runs. It doesn't sound like much to brag about, but go ahead, see if you can come any closer on one ski.
Golden needs only one ski because she has only one leg. Her right leg was amputated above the knee when she was 12, after it was determined that she had bone cancer.
A skier since she was 5, Golden said the first thing she asked the doctor after hearing the diagnosis was, "Will I still be able to ski?"
Wearing Bermuda shorts on a sunny day at Bear Mountain, Golden sat on the deck of the resort's new California Handicap Ski School and explained how she returned to the slopes and eventually took up racing.
"I never had any doubt that I'd ski again," she said. "The operation was in the spring, and that next winter, I took lessons at Sunapee, N.H., from Kirk Bauer, who showed me how to adapt to skiing with just one leg."
Bauer, now executive director of National Handicapped Sports in Washington, also has one leg--he lost the other to a grenade in Vietnam.
Joining in the conversation, he said: "Unlike Diana, I hadn't skied much before my injury, but while I was in the hospital in San Francisco, they organized a trip to Boreal, up in the Sierra, and I went along just for kicks. There was a program there for the disabled, and I soon became an avid skier."
Golden, who will turn 27 in March, started racing in 1981 "because of the challenge," competing at first against other disabled skiers. Since then, she has won:
--A gold medal in downhill at the 1982 World Disabled Ski Championships.
--Four gold medals in the 1986 World Disabled Ski Championships.
--A gold medal in the 1988 Winter Olympics at Calgary, where giant slaloms for disabled skiers were held as a demonstration sport.
--Gold medals in downhill and giant slalom at the 1988 World Disabled Games.
--Gold medals in various national championships during the 1980s.
In '88, Ski Racing magazine selected her as U.S. Alpine woman skier of the year, in competition against the nation's top able-bodied skiers.
"I really enjoy racing against able-bodied skiers and I've finished fairly high in some regional events back East," she said.
In last year's nationals at Crested Butte, Colo., she also entered the giant slalom, placing 60th behind Roffe. And this winter, she plans to stay in shape for the World Disabled Championships, which will be held Feb. 23-March 6 at Winter Park, Colo., by entering several races on the regular International Skiing Federation (FIS) calendar.
Golden, who grew up in Lincoln, Mass., was at Bear Mountain last weekend to forerun the course for the Chap Stick Challenge, a regional qualifying race for the U.S. Disabled Ski Championships March 11-16 at Stratton Mountain, Vt.
Disabled skiers compete in various categories, depending on their disabilities. Golden started as a "three-track skier," using one ski and two outriggers--forearm crutches with ski tips attached--but later abandoned the outriggers in favor of regular ski poles.
"I don't know which method is faster for racing," she said. "It's a matter of individual preference. I don't use outriggers, but Alexander Spitz of West Germany does, and he's the current men's champion.
There are also programs for the disabled that involve using kayak-like sit-skis and mono-skis, which are sort of like bicycles on skis, as well as one for the blind, who generally have a guide skiing along with them.
"Earlier today I think I might have established a first," Golden said with a laugh. "I was guiding a blind skier down the hill. It wasn't exactly the blind leading the blind, but it was an 'amp' leading the blind."
Her racing ability and upbeat personality have brought her several commercial sponsors, including Rossignol, which supplies skis.
"They give me four pairs a year," she said. "And I use one pair at a time--one ski for training and the other for racing.
"I have an artificial leg that I tried skiing on," said Golden, who gets around with ease on crutches. "It's OK for anyone whose amputation was below the knee, but I found that whenever I bent the artificial knee, it would buckle. Actually, I don't like wearing it anytime--and the guys really give me a hard time about it.
"Anyway, with one ski, the main thing is, I have to keep both edges really sharp, because I can only shift my weight on just that ski, rather than from ski to ski, as able-bodied racers do."
A 1984 graduate of Dartmouth College with a major in English literature, Golden said her only firm plans at the moment are to continue skiing and racing through the 1992 World Disabled Games.
Both Golden and Bauer, who administers 35 programs around the nation, said that just about anyone can ski. Her parting words of advice to other disabled people: "Don't dwell on what you can't do, just think about what you can do."