Sara Mitchell, Ph.D.: Conquering Mountains

Sports Psychologist, United States Olympic Committee

At the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, Dr. Sara Mitchell scaled a substantial stretch of extreme mountain terrain inaccessible by lift to reach a skier who needed her before a race. “Dr. Mitchell’s willingness to go above and beyond to provide service paid off. … That athlete went on to claim a podium spot,” says Katie Branham, manager of Paralympic communications.

Unknown to most, Dr. Mitchell was silently climbing a daunting mountain of another kind. Months prior, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was up to her to travel,” says Matt Cramer, USOC director of Paralympic sport performance. “While we would’ve found a way to work without her, I know there are medals that wouldn’t have happened if it had not been for the support she provides.”

“[Growing up], I gravitated toward experiences that challenged me [beyond] what was expected,” Mitchell says. “I didn’t want to be afraid.”

Mitchell sees how the mountains mirror each other, “There are parallels between having to perform while [in] treatment and the experiences of the athletes.”

Perhaps that’s why Mitchell has taken it upon herself to become the go-to person for coordinating care for athletes from their networks of support providers. “Sara is the most amazing sports psychologist,” says triathlete Allysa Seely, who won gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. “[My] journey produced challenges, but we were able to conquer them.”

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