LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A Las Vegas native took a dive on Mt. Charleston 3 years ago, landing her in a wheelchair for the foreseeable future. Now, she’s glided past this limitation and is reaching new heights on an international level.
From her Hawaiian roots to Las Vegas, 26-year-old Shelby Estocado was a princess of competitive hula dancing, baseball, basketball, and, frankly, any sport she could get into.
“I was the middle child, but, like, I just wanted to play with my brothers and beat them, and be better than them most of the time,” Estocado said with a laugh from Park City, Utah during a virtual interview Monday morning. “I was always into sports.”
That passion went beyond childhood games on her family’s 7.5-acre valley ranch and into the city, but it wasn’t without conflict. Estocado said societal pressures forced her to shift her focus to softball when she wanted to pursue baseball in high school.
“Everyone wasn’t really supporting it,” she said.
Regardless, she thrived, competing on Bishop Gorman High School’s softball team before her time at the University of Tulsa where she played another four years. Soon after, she swung and hit an opportunity on the 2016 USA National Women’s Baseball Team, traveling as far as South Korea to compete.
“I was on the USA Baseball Team until my accident, so that was the tough part,” Estocado said as her smile faded to a neutral demeanor.
February 23, 2020: a snowboarding jump in Lee Canyon ended with a crash landing.
“I went off a jump and I lost control. Right when I went off, I kind of slipped back and I landed straight on my back,” Estocado said. “My abs, like, started feeling weird and numb. Everything just felt numb.”
She suffered a broken sternum and T6 spinal cord injury. Even after two surgeries, she no longer could feel the legs that carried her to success.
But, despite the immobility, she’s glided on through adaptive sports, an area of competition she said she was unaware of prior.
With the right equipment, she can do almost any sport. She said since her accident, she’s mountain biked, played sled hockey, done CrossFit and, perhaps most importantly, skied.
Estocado, as of Friday, is in Kimberly, Canada competing in the 2023 FIS Para Alpine Skiing Canadian and USA National Championships.
The goal: make the USA ski team for the 2026 Winter Paralympics.
8 News Now interviewed her as she finished training at Utah’s National Ability Center.
“You’re now thriving in this area that you didn’t even know existed a few years ago,” 8 News Now Reporter Ryan Matthey said.
“I always want to prove myself wrong or just, like, get better at something,” Estocado said. “I don’t know until I try.”
The success story, however, has another key player, besides the family, girlfriend and friends Estocado attributes to her emotional and mental recovery.
There are 622 people with life-altering injuries across 45 states who have returned to the sports they love through the assistance of the High Fives Foundations, CEO and Founder Roy Tuscany said. The 501c3 nonprofit provides grants for “adaptive equipment, healing, recovering costs and everything that can improve the quality of life for those who had life-changing injuries.”
Within 48 hours of the accident, Estocado was connected to High Fives.
“They got to have a goal. What is the goal that this grant is going to provide them to do? We’re going to follow up and check in and see how they’re doing and the progression of this, you know, goal from grant achievement model,” Tuscany said from his Truckee, Nevada office during a virtual interview Friday.
Tuscany himself once was paralyzed from the belly button down because of a sustained spinal cord injury during a 130-foot jump on Mammoth Mountain in 2006. In 2009, he began the nonprofit and has since raised nearly $10 million through grant funding, he said.
Tuscany considers Estocado his best friend, and Estocado said his wife has been her biggest mentor throughout her return to athletics.
“I think Shelby’s story is a button that’s stuck on fast-forward, and that’s okay,” Tuscany said with a smile. “We’re just a catalyst. We’re a catalyst and a support for an individual to get back to where they want to get to, and we’ll use every resource we have to give them those opportunities.”
In 2015, High Fives and Lee Canyon Ski Resort partnered for ‘Feel Good Friday.’ Every Friday in March, ski lift tickets are sold at a discounted price with $5 of every ticket benefiting the nonprofit. Tuscany said over $100,000 has been raised through this partnership to help others like Estacado.
“You have to find what makes you happy and you have to have whatever mindset. You have a choice. I just had that support and I understand not that many people have that. So, it’s not easy at all,” Estacado said. “If you just give up, you’re not going to give yourself that chance to say, ‘oh my gosh, I can actually do this.’ That’s what it took for me.”
The last Feel Good Friday at Lee Canyon Ski Resort is Friday, March 31. Ski lift tickets will be sold for $25 when they are typically sold for at least $60 on other days.