KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Megan McJames is hardly a typical member of the U.S. Ski Team's Olympic squad.
For starters, she's not even a member of the U.S. team, having failed to meet the criteria to receive the team's financial support either this season or last.
But McJames made her way to the Sochi Games just the same.
She raised $80,000 from donors and sponsors, hired her own coach, prepared her own training courses and arranged her own travel all season long.
"There were definitely some challenges and I'm really proud of myself to be able to overcome it and come here," McJames said Monday after a training session on the slopes at Rosa Khutor.
With Lindsey Vonn out injured, the U.S. team had an open spot in giant slalom — McJames' best event. She'll start with the No. 33 bib in Tuesday's race, after fellow U.S. racers Mikaela Shiffrin and Julia Mancuso, but ahead of Resi Stiegler, who has the No. 41 bib in a system based on ranking points.
McJames won the lower-tier Nor-Am Cup overall title last season, giving her access to start any World Cup race this season. She took advantage of the opportunity, finishing in the points twice in giant slalom races in December. She was 23rd in St. Moritz, Switzerland; and 26th in Val d'Isere, France
"I think we did pretty good and learned a lot about fundraising pretty fast," McJames said. "I found a lot of great supporters who supported the idea of going after your dreams in spite of challenge."
While McJames is staying with the rest of the U.S. team in Russia, her ski technician had to find other housing.
"There's definitely people that have made this road challenging for me. But all in all I'm here representing the USA and I'm happy to be here representing the USA," said McJames, of Park City, Utah.
The main reason the 26-year-old McJames did not qualify for the team was that racers at her age are required to have better results.
"There's criteria," U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said earlier this season. "It's pretty straightforward."
When McJames was selected for Sochi, nobody from the American team called her to let her know.
"I wasn't expecting anything," she said. "Just happy to be here."
Stiegler is rooming with McJames, who raced for the U.S. team at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
"All of us know how hard it's been for Megan, so I'm really proud of her," Stiegler said. "I think it's awesome that she never gave up and that she worked really hard against the odds."
McJames will also ski in the slalom Friday night, but she's most excited for giant slalom.
"If I can ski my best tomorrow, then that's all I can ask for," she said.
So far, McJames hasn't been invited to rejoin the U.S. team for next season. But even if she does get that call, she would have to think twice.
"As well as challenges to the independent road, there's also advantages," McJames said. "I like being able to have a very indivualized program that supports my athletic needs. We'll just have to see the options in the spring and re-evaluate from there."
Follow Andrew Dampf at http://twitter.com/asdampf