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University Public Relations

1000 E University Ave

Dept. 3226, Bureau of Mines

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2379

Fax: (307) 766-6729

Email: uwmktg@uwyo.edu

Always an Athlete

After a car accident in college left former Cowgirl basketball player Nichole Rider paralyzed, she took on a number of other sports, from sailing to half marathons.

By Micaela Myers

For Nichole Rider of Douglas, Wyo., playing Cowgirl basketball with her twin sister, Jennifer, was a dream come true. “The whole experience was amazing,” she says of her time at the University of Wyoming. “Being in sports at a small high school in Wyoming and then being able to go to the home-state university and play with my twin sister was an incredible experience.”

In 1995, Rider was in her senior year at UW when she went on a date to Fort Collins, Colo., with her boyfriend. On the way home driving on Highway 287, he fell asleep at the wheel. The accident broke Rider’s neck, and the doctors originally gave her a 50 percent chance of living through the night and a 5 percent chance of ever having movement below her shoulders. Rider not only survived but regained movement in her upper body. She can walk with the use of two canes, though she uses a wheelchair the majority of the time for efficiency.

After an intense recovery and rehabilitation period, Rider returned to UW to finish her social science degree, graduating in 1998 and beginning a career in medical billing. But sports were in her genes, and by 2007, she found them calling once again.


UW Alumnae Nichole Rider UW Alumnae Nichole Rider UW Alumnae Nichole Rider

“I think it’s an inborn thing,” she says of her love of sports. “Our grandfather George Carmin, who is in the Wyoming coaches hall of fame, was a multi-sport athlete. He played semi-pro basketball. He was a coach and teacher in Wyoming. The gym in Glendo, Wyo., is named after him.

“Sports are in our genes,” she continues. “In fifth grade we started playing basketball, and it came easy to us. You find things you like, and you keep pursuing them. It’s the rush of the competition and being the best you can be. It’s that excitement and adrenaline.

“When I first got back into sports, I started with handcycling, and then I tried playing wheelchair rugby,” Rider says. “I tried downhill and Nordic skiing and wheelchair tennis—I was just trying everything I could to get out there.”

But it wasn’t until 2010 that she discovered her next true passion while on vacation in Florida: sailing. “Six weeks later, I was racing in my first regatta in Casper for the Wyoming Governors Cup. The first two summers I was sailing, I raced in 12 regattas,” she says. At the time, Rider was still living and working in Laramie, Wyo.


UW Alumnae Nichole Rider

“I love the freedom on the water,” she says. “We grew up on a ranch in Douglas near Glendo Reservoir. We spent every summer weekend from the time I was 5 on up at the lake. I started water skiing when I was 7. I loved the water. Getting back on the water, it was like I found home."


“I love the freedom on the water,” she says. “We grew up on a ranch in Douglas near Glendo Reservoir. We spent every summer weekend from the time I was 5 on up at the lake. I started water skiing when I was 7. I loved the water. Getting back on the water, it was like I found home. I’m active, but I’m mobility impaired, so everything is a struggle. I’ll never forget the feeling of getting in that sailboat for the first time. Everything is so fluid. It’s complete freedom.”

Eventually Rider moved to Delray Beach, Fla., to be able to sail more often. She works full time doing medical billing from home for a Laramie-based company and also continues to handcycle and kayak.

“I did a lot of motivational speaking when I first got here,” she says. “I did 22 speaking engagements at Rotary Clubs, yacht clubs and schools sharing my passion for sailing.”

In winter 2015, Rider had the chance to compete again alongside her sister—the first time since they played Cowgirl basketball in the ’90s. The two teamed up with a friend to run the Miami Half Marathon.

“After my accident, it was quite hard on my sister,” Rider says. “She didn’t run for a year because she had a form of survivor’s guilt. She’s 42 now, and she keeps in shape, but she’s not a big runner anymore. I called her the first of January and told her we had an opportunity to do this half marathon and help our friend launch ThumbsUp International Inc., a nonprofit that pairs able-bodied athletes with disabled athletes. Jennifer, who lives in McFadden, Wyo., said sure, even though she only had three weeks to train.

“That was an incredible experience,” Rider says of the marathon. Jennifer and her best friend, Janeen Jones of Elk Mountain, Wyo., took turns pushing Nichole in a jogger chair. “They did three weeks of training, came out here and ran a half marathon—13.1 miles—in two hours!  

“It was the first time we competed together since my accident more than 20 years ago,” Rider continues. “We were inseparable as kids growing up. We competed in all the sports together, and we always had a practice partner. It was great. Then my accident happened, and that totally cut us apart as far as that goes. So it was great to have the marathon experience.

“We are already registered for the Miami Half Marathon next year,” Rider says. “I’m going to ride my handcycle this time, though. It was hard to sit there and not be doing something. I loved to run, and I still really miss running. If I can’t be running, I want to at least be riding my handcycle. I want to be able to maximize my potential.”

The pair teaming up again gained national attention, with articles in Runner’s World and the Miami Herald. With her drive and determination, there’s no doubt Nichole Rider will continue to live life to its fullest.

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University Public Relations

1000 E University Ave

Dept. 3226, Bureau of Mines

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2379

Fax: (307) 766-6729

Email: uwmktg@uwyo.edu

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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