WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — It's been 14 years since former Westborough resident Nikki Stone won America's first gold medal in aerial skiing at the Nagano Winter Olympics. Watching the London summer games today, she vividly remembers the intense pressure and huge emotions that come with Olympic competition.
"I can still feel it," she said in a phone interview from her home in Park City, Utah. "It's still so fresh and raw for me."
Stone moved with her family to Westborough when she was 5, and always had Olympic aspirations. She worked hard at gymnastics, but said she was "too tall" for the sport when she attended Westborough High School.
She attended a skiing academy at Waterville Valley, N.H., spending half the school year there, and half in Westborough. "The high school was wonderful. They understood how to dream big," she said.
"There's been other Olympians in Westborough, so there must be something in the water," said Stone, referring to Ashley Walden, who competed in women's singles luge in the 2002 Salt Lake City games.
Stone competed in the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway, finishing 13th. Then, a spinal injury prevented her from standing or walking, and doctors said she'd never ski again. Less than two years later, however, Stone won the gold in Japan.
Westborough threw a parade when Stone returned. She remembered the weather was "horrific" that day, but she "couldn't believe how many" people turned out. "It meant the world to me."
Stone has won numerous other medals and championships. Today, she is a mother, motivational speaker, author, and works helping former Olympians through the retirement process. She lives with her husband and two young children, and said it's been "very cool" to see her 4-year-old become excited about the games.
"Having two kids, the rule in the house is, we don't turn on the TV. There's only one exception – during the Olympics. Now it's on 24/7," she said.
With that comes memories of the pressure she felt in 1994 and 1998.
"Before my second Olympics, I got a mouth guard because I ground my teeth at night," she said. "I ground through that in a month. I got another one after the Olympics and it lasted 12 years. That's how intense the pressure is. For me, I was only in the air for three seconds. One millisecond goes wrong and it's over."
Stone also remembers the exhilaration and pride she felt in Nagano when she's watching big Olympic moments today, such swimmer Ruta Meilutyte's emotional reaction after winning gold.
"To know that you're representing your whole country is very empowering," Stone said. "It's a lifetime of work."