Danielle Umstead and Her Snow-Loving Guide Dogs

Meet Paralympics Skier Danelle Umstead, her retired guide dog Bettylynn and her new guide dog Aziza.

By | Posted: February 5, 2014, 6 a.m. PST

Danelle Umstead, a visually impaired alpine skier from Park City, Utah, competes with her husband Rob as her sighted guide in the women’s slalom, giant slalom, downhill, and super combined. At the 2010 Winter Paralympics, they were the first husband and wife visually impaired ski race team to compete for Team USA, and earned bronze medals in downhill and super combined.

Danelle lives with retired guide dog Bettylynn, a 7-year-old Labrador Retriever who lost her sight, and her new guide dog Aziza, a 2-year-old Labrador Retriever, who recently arrived.

Danelle and Rob Umstead. Courtesy NBC Olympics, United States Olympics Committee
Q: Why did you decide to get a dog?
A: I used a cane (to get around), and one day I was crossing the street with our son Brocton in my backpack when I froze and wondered if it was safe. I thought a guide dog would give me more confidence and independence when going out. I trained Bettylynn to find Brocton. One day we were in REI, and Brocton ran off. I told Bettylynn to "Find him,” and she did.

Danelle and Rob Umstead. Courtesy NBC Olympics, United States Olympics Committee
Q: Where did Bettylynn and Aziza come from?
A: Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, Ore.

Q: How did you choose their names?
A: Guide Dogs (for the Blind) named them.

Q: Do Bettylynn and Aziza travel with you?
A: Bettylynn stays at home now, but she went everywhere with us, including eight countries, and the field at Fenway Park baseball stadium in Boston, when Rob threw out the first pitch. When the (Team USA Paralympic) athletes went to the White House, she came with us and met President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Q: Do your dogs help you train?
A: When traveling to practices, they make it easier to get around and to ask people for directions. People shy away from someone using a cane, but will come up to you if you have a dog.

Q: Do they like the snow?
A: Bettylynn loves to play in the snow, especially fresh powder. Aziza hasn’t experienced it yet.

Q: What are their favorite activities?
A: Bettylynn loves Brocton, and playing Ring Around the Rosie with him is her favorite game. Aziza goes nuts over toys, other dogs, and kids.

Q: Does your dog help relieve the stress from competition?
A: It’s really awesome to come back to my hotel room after competing and unwind with my dog.

Q: Were you involved in the dogs’ training?

A: Guide Dogs (for the Blind) trained them, but I spent a month learning how to work with them.

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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

2/11/2014 4:25:58 AM

What a fantastic team!

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Edith McGlynn   North Las Vegas, Nevada

2/7/2014 7:37:07 PM

Good Luck to you and your new Angel. It is so wonderful to hear of this precious dog that gives you the extra boost you need. Everybody needs the love that you have found in this special dog.

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