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Alumni Athletes
By J.L. Bibb

Debbie Armstrong
Winter Olympics Gold Medalist—Slalom Skiing

Debbie Armstrong’s achievements in Olympic skiing are legendary. Born in Salem, Oregon in 1963, Armstrong made a name for herself as a dauntless slalom skier in the early-to-mid 1980s. At the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Armstrong garnered international attention when she won the gold medal in the giant slalom.

“Sport is a metaphor,” Armstrong says. “Outdoor experiences are about metaphors, too. To sum up my whole Olympic experience in one paragraph: Don’t get to the bottom and wish you had a second chance. It’s a unique experience, be open and experience the uniqueness of it – whatever comes with that.”

Throughout her career, Armstrong has kept herself open to life and its lessons while earning numerous awards and honors, including serving on the 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams and the 1981, 1985 and 1987 World Championship teams, winning a national championship in 1987, and being inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1984. She founded the Debbie Armstrong Say No to Alcohol and Drugs Campaign in 1987 in partnership with the Washington State Substance Abuse Coalition, and she founded the “Walk with Debbie Armstrong” campaign in 1988, dedicated to providing outdoor sports activities to people with disabilities.

The gold medalist counts her graduation from a NOLS Rocky Mountain Instructor course in 1991 as one of her favorite life experiences.

“The Winter Seminar was a big standout for me, because it was a winter environment, and I’m such a winter person,” she says. “For me to be able to just exist in a winter environment, just make the food, just stay warm, just transport myself … it was the ultimate. I will never forget that experience.”

Now Armstrong serves as Ski Ambassador at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, a position she has held since 1997. She works with the ski school and lodges and helps with the marketing team during the winter. But in the summer, she plays in and around Seattle.

“I get to hike a lot and bike a lot and use all my technical skills that I learned from NOLS,” she says. “I like to compete with myself. I like to test my personal abilities. On the Instructor course, I found myself in the last few days on the small group expedition with four guys. It was the gnarly group – we were going to summit four peaks in one day. For me, it had a physical challenge that was very intriguing. I wanted to be in that group and I wanted to push myself.”

As she continues on her life’s journey, Armstrong notes that she has learned how to listen to her heart.

“I think as I grew older I became a little better at listening to who I am,” she explains. “I can come to work on a daily basis, and it’s pretty tough for me to have a bad day. I pay attention and try to listen to the things that are important to me. I’m a physical person. I do have to be outside. I’m coming to realize that I like to teach. So, it’s just kind of paying attention and figuring out who we are and creating a life around that.”

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