In our Sleeping With… series, we ask people from different career paths, backgrounds, and stages of life how they make sleep magic happen.
In wheelchair curling, precision is critical. Unlike Olympic curling, where athletes sweep the ice to direct their throws, wheelchair curling athletes have no such advantage—meaning their aim has to be on target from the get-go. And while Batoyun “Oyuna” Uranchimeg, 48, is ready to take her top notch aim and accuracy to her Paralympic debut in Beijing at the 2022 Games, her path to representing Team USA on the sport’s biggest stage was hardly a straight shot.
Uranchimeg’s road to becoming one of the top wheelchair curlers in the country started decades ago in Mongolia, where she grew up. She says she often dreamed about visiting the United States, but during the Cold War era in the 1980s, it was very difficult for people in her country and much of Eastern Europe to get visas to the U.S. (Mongolia, along with several other countries, were socialist at the time, and under strict travel restrictions to non-socialist countries.)
“When you’re told you can’t go somewhere, of course that’s where you want to visit,” Uranchimeg tells SELF. “Every time someone went to study and came back, they made [the U.S.] sound so very exciting.”
Restrictions have loosened over the last several decades, so when Uranchimeg had the opportunity to get a visitor visa in 2000. She jumped at the chance. But while in Minnesota visiting a Mongolian friend, Uranchimeg was part of a serious car accident, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. At the age of 27—and with a 5-year-old son still in her home country—Uranchimeg was faced with reimagining and remaking her entire life.
“First, I thought about if I even wanted to live,” Uranchimeg tells SELF, recalling the early days after her accident. “Once I decided that I did, I was determined to thrive and start building a life based on what I had, not on the life that could have been.”
Uranchimeg decided that life would be in the U.S.—specifically in Minnesota. She got a job as an administrative assistant at the University of St. Thomas, and with the help of a pro bono immigration attorney, began the process of getting her son to join her in the U.S. It was during this time when she decided to adopt her young niece as well, who was being raised alongside her son by Uranchimeg’s mom, as she shared with the University’s website. Eight years later, her son finally came to the U.S., followed by her niece another two years later.
As the single mom of two kids, most of her time was dedicated to meeting their needs, but when a friend became head coach of an adaptive circus program at a gym called Circus Juventas in St. Paul, Uranchimeg was intrigued.
“That’s when I learned to be more active because the program was so fun,” she says. “I didn’t participate in their circus shows, but I trained regularly with people who did because it felt so good to move in new ways.”