'DWTS': Danelle Umstead Talks Being the Show's First Visually Impaired Competitor

Even before Danelle Umstead steps foot in the Dancing With the Stars ballroom with partner Artem [...]

Even before Danelle Umstead steps foot in the Dancing With the Stars ballroom with partner Artem Chigvintsev, she's already made history on the ABC show as its first visually impaired competitor.

The U.S. Paralympic skier was first diagnosed at 13 with a genetic eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which causes the retina to degenerate, eventually causing blindness. Now 46, her sight is limited to less than five feet without detail, and she is recovering from multiple sclerosis attack while training for her dancing debut.

As an incredible athlete at the top of her field, Umstead has clearly never let her visual impairment slow her down, but as she told PopCulture.com prior to Monday's season 27 premiere, dancing is a whole new challenge for her.

"I've had 10 years to learn how to ski," she tells PopCulture. "I've had two weeks to try to learn how to do one dance, which will go away if we continue on the show and I have a week to learn how to do dances."

"It's just completely different. With skiing, it is very detail-oriented, but you train every day, nine hours a day, and you train for four years for the big, bigger picture, for the Olympic and Paralympic games. You have four years to train for that. For Dancing with the Stars you have, maximum, two weeks. ...Now I'm learning that I got to think about my neck. I got to think about my shoulders, my arms, my fingers, the way my head is looking, the way my eyes are looking. It is so abnormal from my everyday life or anything I've ever trained for. It is just off-the-wall, totally opposite," she continues.

Working with Chigvintsev, Umstead has had to learn to trust her partner to help her train safely with her limited sight, while the pro dancer has had to learn how to communicate the art of dance without the use of visuals.

"Learning how to trust Artem in very little time has been a challenge, and having him understand me, and he's been so amazing, open, and excited, and challenged himself," she tells PopCulture. "I think, in the end, he's going to be such a much more amazing teacher than he already was. I think he's going to be even that much better by this challenge that he's agreed to take on with me."

She explains that he often will have her use her sense of touch to feel the way his body is moving and then try to replicate the movement in order to learn the dance.

"He's adapted really well, which I'm super impressed, and he's growing that trust very quickly, which I thought was going to take a lot longer," Umstead adds.

And despite the intense training the athlete has been undergoing prior to the premiere, she admits taking that first step into the ballroom is a big thing emotionally for her.

"I feel very vulnerable. America's going to see that," she says. "I am a happy thoughts, strong-minded, mindful person, and I like to laugh and I like to laugh things off. I have been so overwhelmed and frustrated in trying to be my best at times that it's gotten the best of me, meaning I thought I could do better than I was doing and I was disappointed in myself type thing. But I'm trying to have the same mindset I learned in skiing, and trying to focus on the best I can do for each day. Living my impossible every day has been a great mindset for me and just recharging every day."

In the end, she hopes her tenure on the show can inspire people, whether they live with similar impairments or challenges of their own.

"I hope that I can share and people can connect, and they don't have to be blind, they could just be having a hard day, that we should all live our impossible each and every day," she says. "I hope to inspire people to empower that, and empower that movement in their own life, and just find the best of themselves each and every day."

Part of what helps her make the best of every day is her guide dog Aziza and her retired dog Bettylynn, whom she celebrated her relationship — and that of other people with service animals — with last week's a one-of-a-kind Guide Dog Retirement Paw-ty in a partnership with Natural Balance and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Danelle Umstead DWTS
(Photo: Photo Credit: Michael Simon for Startracks)

"I need my dogs to be on a routine because of the crazy lifestyle I live. So they're all Natural Balance dog food, all Natural Balance treats," she tells PopCulture. "I was like, 'This is a no-brainer. That's all my dogs eat. This partnership is made for me.' Then ... Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me the two best guide dogs in the world."

"They have to be quick learners because I do not do the same routine every day, ever. My life's constantly changing. I'm going different places all the time. They have to be alert. They have to be on it. They have to have that ability to just react to anything that's happening at any time. If I don't eat right, I can't even do that. I forgot to eat here, and I'm miserable. I couldn't function, I couldn't do anything right. I'm like, 'Well, I need to do what I do for my dogs,'" she continues of her dogs.

Dancing With the Stars premieres season 27 Monday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Photo Credit: Michael Simon for Startracks, ABC/Craig Sjodin