Andrew Kurka talks about second chances, his love of skiing and his goals for PyeongChang.
Andrew Kurka has always been a devoted athlete. Growing up he was a six-time wrestling champion in Alaska, his home state. Living in Alaska made him active not only in sports but in outdoor activities as well. Kurka is an avid fisherman and when he was 13-years-old one fishing trip changed his whole life. He broke his bike in an ATV 4-wheeler accident where he severely damaged three vertebrae in his spinal-cord.
“When I got injured, not knowing if I could play sports again was the biggest thing that struck me,” Kurka says. “I didn’t know if I would have a sport to play anymore.”
Fortunately, two years after his injury his therapist suggested he tried skiing and he instantly fell in love.
“Skiing is freeing,” he says. “It’s something that gives me a chance to be better than I was before. With my legs, I wouldn’t ever be this good at skiing. I probably wouldn’t have ever skied. It’s something that helps to give me confidence every day.”
The 2018 Winter Paralympics will be Kurka’s first time competing, but not his first time making the U.S. Paralympic team. The 26-year-old has always had big dreams of being a successful athlete. His Paralympic dream started after he attended the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver. Kurka worked hard to make it to the Paralympics, and in 2014 that dream almost came true. He made the U.S. Paralympic team and was in Sochi, Russia just days before the competition when he broke his back again during the first downhill training run.
“That was the lowest point of my career,” Kurka says. “To finally have a chance at accomplishing my dreams but failing right at the starting line. I didn’t even get to walk in the opening ceremonies. Then, eight months later I broke my femur. That was the toughest time, where my mind was filled with doubt and I didn’t know if it was right for me to continue pursuing this sport. That’s when I realized my journey in sport had to be greater than myself.”
Kurka now has a second chance at his Paralympic dream. He will be competing in downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G and super combined representing the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing team in PyeongChang this March.
“My goals are to win gold in every event that I’m competing in,” Kurka says. “Is that likely to happen? No. Is it possible? Yes, and that’s enough for me. I’m going to give it my best shot. If I crash or fall or finish forth I’ll be okay with it because I tried my best. I’m going to compete, to be a competitor and represent my country and try my best pursuing this dream.”
Kurka trains by skiing every chance he gets. He skis almost every day, works out to keep in shape and stays focused on his goals.
“More importantly, I don’t give up,” he says. “Even when I feel lazy, tired or sore, I push on. The only time I take a break is when I know it isn’t smart to keep pushing.”
Kurka looks up to his old wrestling coach who helped him cultivate his dream of being a successful athlete. Even though his coach has passed away, he hopes to make him proud in PyeongChang.
“I hope to put that medal up somewhere he will be honored for the dreams that he helped to create in young children,” he says.
Kurka is excited for his redemption in PyeongChang. His advice to any young athletes with dreams of competing at the Paralympics is “find something you love, find a program, find support, and don’t ever give up. Your work ethic will help to separate you. Your logic will help to excel you. But your heart will help you to grow.”