In the world of skiing, injuries happen. We all know a friend who has blown an ACL and the sight of a skier rag-dolling down the slope is all too common. However, for adaptive skiers, the life-changing accidents frequently cause the athletes to restructure and reevaluate everything. Therapy for a torn knee is one level of awful, but how do you move on after losing both of your legs?
For Ralph Green, skiing came later. This high school quarterback’s life was changed while walking down the streets of Brooklyn at the age of 15. He was gunned down in a random street shooting, losing his left leg at the hip. He spent the next four years living and training at Winter Park’s National Sports Center for the Disabled, learning the ins and outs of skiing with outriggers. He later moved to Vail where he still resides.
Since then, Green racked up a myriad of adaptive skiing awards and trophies. In addition to his 12 years on the National Team, he competed in his third consecutive Paralympic Games in the 2014 events at Sochi.
How did Green move on after his injury? He maintained confidence in himself and in his gear. “One of the most difficult things about learning to ski is trusting your turns,” Green said. “Trusting your turns and believing that you’re not going to fall.”
Never Give Up
Re-learning to ski wasn’t a question for Craig Kennedy; it was a requirement. As a resident of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Kennedy practically lived and breathed Champagne powder mornings. In fact, this didn’t change after becoming a T-12 paraplegic in 1996. Instead, Kennedy adjusted, persevered and pushed forward as a sit skier.
“I basically had to re-learn how to ski again,” Kennedy said. “I borrowed a sit-ski from a local in a wheelchair and took it out. I couldn’t let this beat me!”
This determined attitude is a glaring characteristic of adaptive athletes. In fact, Vasu Sojitra used a similar unwavering resolve in order to teach himself to ski with outriggers.
Sojitra’s above-the-knee amputation occurred as a result of septicemia when he was a mere nine months old. Sojitra never knew skiing with two legs, but that doesn’t mean his resolve was any less steadfast.
“I taught myself to do this because I have a problem-solving mindset,” he said. “But I’m also really stubborn. I just kept going until I learned. If someone tells me I can’t do something, it’s going to happen.”
Sojitra just recently shared his amazing and inspiring story through the film, “Out on a Limb,” where he is featured venturing into the backcountry and skiing deep lines, completely unassisted.
Embrace the Struggle
Too often, the glory stories gloss over the struggle that comes with recovery and adaptation. However, it’s in these hardships that these athletes learn to press forward.
Jeremy McGhee began snowboarding at the age of 18 and quickly moved up to the semi-pro ranks in Boarder Cross. However, a wicked motorcycle accident in 2001 left McGhee as a T-10 paraplegic. These days, he lives for the powder in the backcountry. Using an HOC sit-ski and a plethora of pulleys, ropes, anchors, sleds and ascenders, he and his team are able to get him up the mountain. However, McGhee is honest about the internal struggle in the early years.
“As a young man with an ego, it was difficult for me to go from a semi-pro athlete to falling over on the bunny slopes with a team of people watching me,” McGhee said.
If there is anything he wants beginners to understand, it is this: “Embrace the struggle. After all, arcing turns again wouldn’t be so sweet without it.”