Black History Month: Paralympian Bonnie St. John

As we celebrate Black History Month, we spotlight Bonnie St. John, the first African-American ever to win Olympic or Paralympic medals in ski racing.

“I was ahead in the slalom. But in the second run, everyone fell on a dangerous spot. I was beaten by a woman who got up faster than I did. I learned that people fall down, winners get up, and gold medal winners just get up faster.” –Bonnie St. John

Bonnie St. John was the second-fastest woman in the world on one leg in 1984 and the first African-American to win medals in Winter Olympic or Paralympic competition as a ski racer. She won a silver and two bronze medals in the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

How did someone who grew up in San Diego with no snow mange to become a ski racing legend? Well it started when St. John was just five years old. She had her right leg amputated because of a birth defect. At age 15, she went on a ski trip where she practiced and practiced despite the challenge. After all the falls, tumbles, and drops, St. John learned how to ski. She continued her hobby at Burke Mountain Academy, a high school in Vermont for ski racers. Four years later, at the age of 19, St. John earned herself a spot on the U.S. team for the 1984 Paralympics.

St. John is surely an inspirational woman, an inspirational African American, and an inspirational amputee. Although she is known for her amazing athletic accomplishments, she hasn’t stopped there. St. John has graduated with honors from Harvard University, and she was awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to study economics at Oxford University in England.  After graduation, she returned home to the U.S. and worked as a successful sales rep for IBM.  It wasn’t long before Washington came calling, and she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to Director for Human Capital Policy on the White House National Economic Council. She has since written six successful books, including a book she wrote with her teenage daughter titled How Great Women Lead which became a bestseller.

Bonnie St. John exemplifies a “super woman.” Even with all the odds against her, she put the “S” on her chest and has risen high. She is an inspiration and role model.

Guest author Khalesha Baldwin is a Drexel University student and former co-op in the Development Department at Magee. 

Bonnie St. John

Bonnie St. John

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