With 64 surgeries, two years at Harvard, and a Paralympic Games under her belt, visually impaired alpine skier and premed student Caitlin Sarubbi never expected that being asked to dissect a cat in class would be what finally made her question her abilities.
Sarubbi was born with Ablepharon Macrostomia Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that rendered her legally blind and subjected her to repeated reconstructive surgeries as a child. The oldest of five, Sarubbi grew up doing everything her siblings did.
But when she came face-to-face with the cat in a class, Sarubbi realized she could not do the dissection. For the first time in her life, she wondered if her vision was an obstacle that she could not overcome.
“I had this vision from birth, which I think makes it a little easier because I don’t know what 20-20 is,” Sarubbi explained. “I forget that I’m visually impaired. I’m not going to sit there and wallow because it is what it is.”
Sarubbi is a social and cognitive neuroscience concentrator who attributes her interest in being a doctor to the advances in medicine that saved her life as a child. She currently ranks in the top 10 among visually impaired skiers worldwide in all five alpine events.
At the end of the fall semester, she will take a year and a half off to train and compete in the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, before coming back to Harvard to finish her undergraduate degree and pursue medical school.
“I don’t want to wake up 10 years down the road and regret not trying to be a doctor,” Sarubbi said. “I would rather try it now and see if it’s possible.”
PULLING THE TRIGGER
After Sarubbi met with an academic counselor earlier this month, she knew that it was time to make a decision and that it was not going to be an easy one.
“I had been going back and forth on Sochi for the last two and a half years,” Sarubbi said. “I just needed to pull the trigger. I’m at the point right now where I have the luxury of being able to be a skier for a year and a half and travel, but this is the last time. I can’t do it when I have a family and a career.”
Sarubbi has not raced since 2010, when she took an academic leave and froze her points to maintain her ranking on the world stage. Her sister Jamie, a sophomore at Notre Dame who is taking a year off from school to train and compete with Sarubbi as her guide, will join her at the end of the spring semester. Until then, Sarubbi will train and race with Jimmy Lawrence, a ski instructor who worked with the Sarubbi family at Windham Mountain Ski Resort in Windham, N.Y.
“I’m just going to race like I normally would, and she is going to follow me,” Lawrence said. “I just know I have to lay off the gates so that they don’t hit her when I go by them.”
The road to Sochi 2014 will not be easy. Sarubbi is coming into the beginning of the season with no training and a brand new guide, and she is working on a significantly lower budget than last time around, using an online profile on RallyMe.com to raise money. Still, Sarubbi and her family say they want her story to be heard.
“If I had heard a story like Caitlin’s when she was born 22 years ago, my thoughts wouldn’t have been so heavy at the beginning,” said Cathy Sarubbi, who said she wholeheartedly supports her daughter’s decision to go to the Paralympics. “She’s in her Caitlin mode now. Full speed ahead and nothing stopping her.”
IF I CAN DO THIS, I CAN DO ANYTHING