The winter Paralympics sparks fond winter sport memories
By the time you receive this March SPORTS ’N SPOKES issue, the 2022 Winter Paralympics will be underway in Beijing. And I hope you take the time to watch the best of the best compete on the snow and ice.
Having lived virtually my entire life in Minnesota, I was almost forced to participate in winter sports. Some of my earliest memories of winter sports involved figure skating on the flooded tennis courts of a junior high school a block away from my home in Litchfield, Minn.
We would also gather kids from the neighborhood for hockey games on Saturday mornings on the same rinks, followed by some great snowball fights. I was never really a fan of winter, but in a state like Minnesota, you either embraced it or spent a lot of time watching Gilligan’s Island and Hogan’s Heroes reruns on TV.
One sport I did enjoy was downhill skiing. Unfortunately, the nearest ski resort was Powder Ridge in Kimball, Minn., about 25 miles from Litchfield. The cost and time of driving me to the hill, combined with lift ticket prices, was more than my parents could afford at the time, so trips to the hill were few and far between.
I call it a hill, as it is far from the mountains of Colorado; Powder Ridge had a maximum vertical drop of 290 feet, and the longest run was only 2,600 feet, about a half-mile.
Most of my time on skis was spent on obscure sledding hills, usually in some farmer’s field outside of town, where a short run to the bottom was followed by schlepping your skis back to the top for another one- or two-minute slide down the hill.
I never experienced a real mountain until after I joined the wheelchair club in the early 1990s when I made a trip to Breckenridge, Colo., to participate in the Hartford Ski Spectacular put on by the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.
Being a relatively new injury at the T2 level, I was reintroduced to skiing using a bi-ski that probably weighed half as much as I did. I was skiing tethered, which amounted to a long strap attached to the ski to allow an able-bodied skier behind me to keep me from going out of control. The scenery was beautiful, but I didn’t feel like I was actually skiing — more like I was being taken on a controlled slide down the mountain.
Years went by before I made a return to the slopes in 2007. This time, it was to participate in the Disabled American Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colo. I again used a bi-ski, but it was lighter and better designed by this time. And I actually found myself with some level of control, making the experience much more enjoyable.
The following year was a game-changer. I have twin sons who were 11 years old at the time and avid snowboarders. They wanted to hit the slopes with Dad. We scheduled a return trip to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, where I found myself on a monoski for the first time. I was far from a good skier, but the control difference from a bi-ski to a monoski was incredible.
Skiing isn’t something I’ve continued to participate in, but I’m still amazed to watch those who excel at the sport dominate the mountain with speed and grace.
I wish all of the Paralympic competitors well in Beijing and will be watching the skiers exercise their skills like I only wish I could. If I do find myself back on the snow, it will probably be in a cross-country sit-ski to simply enjoy some fresh air and scenery.