Winter Paralympians – Advice for New Athletes
Injured by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq on November 3, 2007, retired Staff Sergeant Heath Calhoun is a bilateral, above-the-knee amputee. Calhoun competed in Vancouver and Sochi. He was selected as the American flag bearer for the Vancouver games and won a silver medal in Sochi in the super combined.
Q: How did you become interested in skiing and what do you like most about it?
HC: I was at Walter Reed and I started to hear about a couple of ski trips they had available. That sparked my interest. Initially, I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t walk, so skiing was the first thing that made me feel like I had my legs back. I could do the same slopes, and the chairlift; everything was the same as everyone else that was skiing. At this point, I just enjoy the feeling of coming down the mountain and making turns.
Q: What advice do you have for service members just starting out in the sport?
HC: Skiing is something I didn’t think I was going to like, because I didn’t want to be in a mono ski. Then the first time I got into it, I just fell in love with it. So, try everything that is available to you because you never know what you’re going to love.
Q: Do you have any tips with regard to training, equipment or securing grants?
HC: For training, you have to listen to the instructors and try to do what they tell you, because it really helps. For equipment, the VA provides monoskis and outriggers.
Victor, whose first Paralympic Games appearance was at the 2006 Torino, Italy, winter games, lost both of her legs after an out-of-control vehicle struck her in he driveway in 1995. In four Paralympic games, she has won a total of five medals.
Q: What sparked your interest in taking your first ski lesson?
SV: My brother gave me the seed of inspiration to ski. he said to me, ‘You can ski! You can ski again!’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about man? I don’t have legs.’ I didn’t know what a mono-ski was. But, he saw these amazing guys in mono-skis jumping cliffs and skiing powder, so he was trying to relay this vision of his own experience of ‘wow!’ At that point, a seed was planed.
Q: What was your first race, and what was it like?
SV: The race wasn’t anything competitive, like what I do these days, but it was daunting for me and I absolutely love it. The thrill of it, the actual racing, was so exciting.
Q: What advice would you give to a person that may have been unexpectedly disabled, who didn’t think skiing is possible?
SV: Anything is possible. Skiing is one of those things where you can love it, or leave it. When you discover you have a love for it, there is nothing else like it; the freedom that skiing can give you. Yes, you have to commit some time and training to learn the basics. But it absolutely is doable for anyone and there are so many great programs out there.
Nichols broke her back in a snowboarding accident in 2000. She has since won a medal for wheelchair basketball, competed in two winter Paralympic games where she’s won 5 medals, and recently she even started competing in Paracanoe and surfing competitions.
Q: After your first race, did you imagine competing internationally, let alone winning a told medal?
AN: Not after my first race. I had so much ground to cover before I could even think of skiing internationally. But it wasn’t long after that first race that I saw my first glimpse of potentially skiing with the USAST. It was in that same season, towards the end of the season, when I won my first national title. That was when I first felt like I might be USAST material.
Q: How did you go about preparing for your first winter games in Vancouver?
AN: I trained really hard going into the games. In January, we were in Europe for the World Cup. I skied on my first world stage at that time. I got to see some of the athletes that I would be competing against, which was important for me. Ski racing is very mental, so startgin on a World Cup level was a big step in my progression for my preparation for the games. Whenever I could train for the Paralympics, between racies, I was really focused on the mental. I needed to be able to inspect the course really well and read parts of the mountain wehre I could really accelerate my speed, and other parts where i needed to be smart and safe. My body was in great shape and I was skiing fast. I just needed to get the tactics and mental part down.
Q: What advice would you give to a young person with Paralympic aspirations?
AN: Be open to new experiences. Once I saw this was a good opportunity to get back on the mountain, that’s when the doors started opening for me because I was open to those experiences. Be open to the possibilities of what you can do.