Rehabilitation Center

Rehab Center Staff Member to be Inducted into Paralympic Hall of Fame

Tanja Kari, a 12-time paralympic cross-country ski medalist and University of Utah Health Care Rehabilitation Center staffer, will be inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame on March 14 at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games. Nominated by her home country of Finland, Kari is being recognized by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) for her extensive achievements and contributions to sport.

Born with one arm, Kari has always loved sports, especially if they involved snow.  She grew up skiing with “able-bodied” skiers, and at age 12 began traveling throughout her native Finland to compete in 30 to 40 cross-country ski races a year.  At 15, she left home to continue her studies at an athletic academy.  By the time she was 17, Kari was a cross-country phenom, winning a gold medal at the 1988 Innsbruck (Austria) paralympic games.

From Innsbruck to Salt Lake City in 2002, Kari competed in five paralympic games, participating in cross-country sprints, middle-, and long-distance events.  Her paralympics medals include 10 gold, one silver, and one bronze. She is a 10-time world championships medalist – nine gold, one silver –and four-time gold medalist at the European championships. In the 2000 Finnish National Cross-Country Championships, skiing with one pole as usual, she finished 24th in a field of 130 female competitors, all the other ones were able-bodied skiers. 

In her final cross-country competition, in 2002 Salt Lake City Paralympics, Kari swept the individual cross-country races and helped Finland win a bronze medal in the relay, becoming the second-most decorated Nordic female of the games. Media wordwide, including the BBC, noted her sterling accomplishments in Salt Lake City.  Shortly after the games she announced her retirement from competitive skiing.

“It was never about the medals,” Kari says. “It was about achieving my absolute best as an athlete.”

Although she retired from competitive racing, Kari remains actively involved in the sport. She earned a master’s in sports science and management in Finland, where she was elected as a winter representative on the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletes Committee for 2002-2006. She also served on the IPC Winter Sport Development Center Initiative, developing a model of collaboration between the IPC and public/private entities to create access to disabled athletes.  She also led the delegation as the ambassador for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) athlete committee targeting doping control. 

In 2005, Kari joined the University of Utah Health Care Rehabilitation Center.  She is currently the program coordinator for the Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles (TRAILS) program, an outreach program for people with spinal cord injury (SCI.) Part of the TRAILS mission is to make sport/recreation as a lifestyle to persons with SCI.

Her induction into the Paralympic Hall of Fame will be a great opportunity to visit with all the paralympic athletes.  Although her family still lives in Finland, Kari’s mother will be able to attend the induction ceremony in Vancouver.  “I thought people had to be really old to get this,” Kari jokes about her nomination. “It’s very cool.  There are so many great athletes they could have chosen, I know it’s a great honor.”

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