Caitlin Sarubbi: Scholar, athlete, inspiration

There’s no stopping Gerritsen Beach native Caitlin Sarubbi. The 20-year-old Harvard student just returned from competing at the Paralympic Games in Vancouver and, if things pan out, will intern at the White House this summer.

Sarubbi’s accomplishments are all the more impressive considering that she is legally blind and was born with a rare congenital syndrome requiring 57 reconstructive plastic surgeries to sculpt her face.

Throughout it all, she has maintained a positive attitude and achieved so much more than most of her peers.

“I have so much to be grateful for because I am so blessed. I just try and live a good fulfilled life and I take nothing for granted,” Sarubbi said.

At last week’s Paralympics, Sarubbi competed in the downhill skiing categories for visually-impaired athletes. While Sarubbi relies on her instincts, a guide travels down the slopes in front of her and warns her, via microphones and ear pieces in her helmet, about rough terrain.

“I got a couple of top-10 finishes, which I was happy with. I have only been training and racing full-time for a little over a year so I was extremely happy with my performance,” she said.

She placed seventh out of 15 in the Women’s Slalom and sixth out of 10 in the Women’s Super Combined.

Sarubbi was the youngest and least experienced competitor in her races.

“Experience always wins, you have to pay your dues, and work your way up,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I gave it my best shot and took it as a learning experience.”

She was nervous but decided to “go all out” — a motto she applies to all aspects of her life. She entered Harvard’s pre-med program in 2008, but took a year-and-a-half break to focus on skiing.

“I work hard. I know what I want my life to be like so I work hard to get that,” Sarubbi said.

One of the highlights of the games was carrying the flag in the Paralympics Torch Relay, which she described as an “exciting honor”.

“I got to keep the torch!” she gushed.

Sarubbi started skiing in 2001 when Disabled Sports USA invited her family to Colorado. The nonprofit organization wanted to sponsor a firefighter in a skiing competition but extended the offer to a firefighter’s child with a disability. Sarubbi fell in love with the feeling of rushing down the slopes, which she said gave her a great sense of freedom.

Sarubbi’s upcoming schedule remains busy. She is preparing for the U.S. Alpine National Championships, waiting for an acceptance letter for a summer internship at the White House, and planning to return to Harvard in September. She’s also preparing for the next Paralympic Games.

“My goal has been this Paralympics but I am definitely considering going to Sochi,” she said. “I am probably not going to stop until I have gold!”