Danelle Umstead is no stranger to competition.
The 46-year-old has represented Team U.S.A. at the Paralympic games three times, winning three bronze medals in alpine skiing. One look at her toned physique tells you everything you need to know: this is a tough athlete who is never afraid to put in the hard work necessary to achieve her goals.
Danelle is even more incredible because she’s blind. She has a genetic eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa — and she’s dealing with multiple sclerosis. But in spite of these handicaps, Danelle has always been a fierce competitor. Now she’s taking her athletic prowess from the mountains to the dance floor as a contestant for the 2018 season of “Dancing With The Stars.”
This is the first time a blind contestant has ever competed on the popular show. Partnered with professional dancer Artem Chigvintsev, Danelle stepped into the ballroom during the season premiere to perform the foxtrot to Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” and her performance was simply breathtaking.
As Artem guides Danelle down the stairs and onto the floor, it’s clear that he’s taking great pains to ensure her safety, while also moving fluidly and with the utmost grace. He seems to be the perfect dance partner for Danelle, who has the raw physical strength to do just about any move, but obviously relies on her partner to help her land in the right place at the right time.
“Because I can’t see, I touch Artem’s shoulders or his legs to feel the movement and paint myself a picture,” Danelle explained.
Artem admitted that when he first learned his new partner was blind, he thought, “How am I going to teach a blind person how to dance?” But once he got to know Danelle, he knew she had the talent and ability to do anything she set her mind to it.
Still, he claims, “This is hands down the biggest challenge I’ve ever had on the show.”
Danelle is also feeling challenged by dancing, but she’s used to working with a guide when she participates in sports, so that’s nothing new. Whether it’s her faithful service dog guiding her way, or her husband leading her down a mountainside, she has found a way to navigate her adventurous life and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
As an alpine skier, I’m able to charge down the mountain at up to 70 miles per hour – without being able to see. My husband guides me down the mountain and one of my proudest moments is winning a bronze medal at the Paralympic games. Now I have a new challenge and [it’s] dancing.
After Danelle and Artem’s lovely foxtrot, the duo scored 18/30 and countless messages of support online. Viewers were delighted to see a blind contestant on the show, and there’s no doubt she’ll have a lot of new fans cheering for her as the competition progresses!
Watch Danelle and Artem’s gorgeous first dance below, and don’t forget to share to inspire others to never be afraid of taking on new challenges.