Sydney Peterson was diagnosed with dystonia at age 13. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Nineteen-year-old St. Lawrence University student Sydney Peterson of Lake Elmo, Minnesota is one of 15 Nordic athletes representing Team USA at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing (March 4-13, 2022). Sydney is competing in three standing cross country skiing races: the 15Km Classic, the 10Km Skate, and the Skate sprint. This is her first Paralympic Games. Sydney was diagnosed with dystonia at age 13.

Sydney is a member of her university Nordic skiing team and was added to the US Nordic skiing team after qualifying at the World Para Snow Sports Championships in Lillehammer, Norway, where she earned two silver medals and a bronze.

“Going into the races in Norway, I had no clue where I would stack up,” said Sydney. “I was really pleasantly surprised, and it’s definitely now motivated me to work hard and hopefully expand on that success in Beijing. I’m super excited and incredibly thankful for everyone that’s helped me get here and supported me.”

Sydney began skiing as a young child. At age 13, she began experiencing pain and movement difficulties in her left arm. The dystonia symptoms and pain have since progressed to severely limit use of her arm and affect her left leg. Despite complicating daily activities from schoolwork to tying shoes, “I won’t say there’s really anything that I can’t figure out how to do,” she said, “but maybe it looks a little different.”

In addition to altering her skiing technique, Sydney skis with one pole instead of two and wears a brace inside her left boot to help position her leg.

“The biggest thing that’s helped me deal with [dystonia] is finding something that I love and trying to keep active in it,” she said. “Since skiing is such a physical activity, it has helped motivate me to continue and try and get better, even though it’s definitely been very frustrating at times.”

Click here for more information about the Beijing 2022 Paralympics and how to watch.

The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancing research for improved dystonia treatments and ultimately a cure, promoting awareness, and supporting the well-being of affected individuals and families.