I am almost finished packing for tomorrow’s trip to Spain to compete in the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Championships, as well as World Cup Finals in Russia a bit later. I have rifled through the contents of my room many times over looking for random bits of accouterments necessary for skiing. I have packed and then repacked all my bags, trying to get them all to 50 pounds or less. I believe I have failed miserably on a few of them, judging by the difficulty I have had picking them up. The last year has been spent preparing for these races, with countless hours in the gym, on the hill, and in the tune room, making sure my body and my equipment are functioning well enough to go faster than everyone else. Even with all the preparation, there is no guaranty of success. I am acutely aware that despite being extremely well trained, the effect of hitting a rut just slightly at the wrong angle is enough to send me hurtling into the safety netting. Regardless, my bags are packed, and all I want is the opportunity to push out of the starting gate.
The World Championships are being held in the town of La Molina, Spain. The hill for giant slalom and slalom has a really steep pitch, so I should have some advantage, as I am lighter and more maneuverable than the average monoskier. The hill for the speed events, however, is rumored to be quite flat, which is not good for me at all. I have quite a bit of skill at speed events, but I am lighter than everyone else out there, making rough terrain, wind gusts, and mistakes add much more to my overall time.
I am most excited for Russia. We are having a test event in Sochi so that we can make sure the venues are going to work properly before the Paralympics next year. Most of what I know about Russia has been learned from years of movies, all with a strong Western Cold War bias. I assume this portrayal is not quite accurate, but the visa application process would suggest the movies are not all wrong. The Russians want to know a bit too much information about you, especially if you have ever been in the military. I don’t have to deal with this issue, but a few teammates do. I can’t help but wonder how I can get a Russian customs agent to say to me “Mister Valker, vee haf vays of making you talk.” That would be fun. I have also learned a few useful Russian phrases, my favorite of which is “spokoynoy nochi” which means “goodnight.” I plan on using this phrase in as many unsuitable situations as possible, such as to the start referee, just before I go out of the start. Imagine the confusion.
The rest of my bags are not going to pack themselves, so google Rosa Khutor, the name of the ski area in Sochi, and I am going to finish up here.
Talk to you from Spain.
In summary, I have never had a longer period of crashes and mistakes in a series of races than this round of the paralympics. In my last race, the super-G, I caught unexpected air at the last gate which caused me to fly sideways and upside down over the finish line at about 50-60 mph. The resulting crash caused me to lose my ski and receive a collective (AAAHHHH!!!) from the crowd, followed a few minutes later by a big cheer when I got back up again. Due to this crash and one the day before in the downhill, I was too beat up to race the super-combined on the last day. My results for slalom and giant slalom were less than spectacular and not worth noting here. Historically I have been very good at racing and enjoyed really good results on a more or less consistent basis. To not do well for a long time is unusual for me. After a great amount of though, however, I have figured out why I was unable to achieve success.
First, at the beginning of the season I changed to new monoski built by a Japanese company called Nissin. This monoski is really good at using the whole ski and arcs turns like nothing else out there. Unfortunately it only skis correctly when one’s weight is in the back seat and one gives oneself tons of room at the top of each turn to make the turn. I had not figured out either of these things by the time the Paralympics came around, and thus suffered the consequences. I also had very little training in hard, icy, bumpy snow, which was the kind we had at the Paralympics, and thus was quite unprepared.
With all that said I did end up having a good time. It was great to see tons of people from all over the world speaking all sorts of languages. The ceremonies for everything were really well done, with the exception of the Inuit throat singing done by a one Tanya Taguk in the closing ceremonies. Inuit throat sining is not to be confused with Tuvan throat singing, which I find quite enjoyable and melodious. Tanya’s singing was more akin to a theatrical asthma attack with which there is no medicine to ease the discomfort. I actually sat through a two hour concert/dance performance of Tanya Taguk last spring in Vancouver, two hours of which I can never get back.
Anyway, on to the pictures.
My teammate, George, practicing his cheering pose.
CDY bathing in his fan-mail. I had no fan mail. My side of the room was lonely and bare.
Me with the Paralympic mascot (Sumi?).
We had this welcome ceremony for just the US team at the athlete village and after the ceremony I found the hottest girls I could and took a picture with them. They were all involved in the ceremonies in some way, but the girl to my left is Laura Vandervoort, who also stars in the TV show called “V”.
The athlete village at night.
Arly, one of the two Mexican skiers in the games.
The ski team, waiting to march into the stadium in Vancouver for the opening ceremonies. Ralph Lauren provided a lot of our uniform and in his infinite wisdom, thought it would be a great idea to have us dress up in a super heavy wool sweater with a really big turtle-neck, then put on a really warm down coat, then top it off with a really warm wool hat. We had to wear this get-up for several hours in 60 degree weather, when we would could have outlasted penguins in Antarctica.
My friend John came to visit and tour the athlete village, above which we both felt it necessary that he strike a gallant pose.
Overly enthusiastic fans at the closing ceremonies.
Pom-pom dancing kids that were required to dance as long as athletes were entering the closing ceremonies. Towards the end of the column they were getting less and less enthusiastic.
After the closing ceremonies I was mobbed by a group of girls from Hawaii who really wanted to meet a paralympian. Glad I could be of service.
Today we had our first downhill training run. The course starts at the top of the women’s Olympic downhill but has slightly more turns and not as much air time. The weather was horrible the whole day, with tons of snow and fog. After many course holds and waiting around at the start I ran my run at about 4 pm when the light was very flat. I very much enjoy being able to see the terrain I am skiing over at 60 mph but I had no such luxury. Luckily the track was very smooth but quite icy. There is a jump onto the finish pitch called ‘hot air’ which turned out to be tons of fun. I was about 1-2 feet off the ground and flew about 30 feet with my weight a bit too far forward, causing my to do a bit of a tip stand but I managed to land it.
The day turned out to be super long, with us getting back to the athlete village at about 5 pm. Chris Devlin-Young, my roommate, got a package jammed packed with fan mail from his sponsors so he has been opening them and reading them all aloud. He has already done about 20 and only has about 80 more to do. Thats all the excitement for today. Check back later
We have a day off to relax from traveling today. I have had a lot of time to check out the village today. There are many countries here, all with different and vibrantly colored uniforms. Many people I recognize from the alpine world cup circuit, but all the nordic teams are staying here too. Nordic skiing appears to be a big deal in eastern Europe because there are big teams from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. I even saw teams from Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Mongolia. My goal is to befriend one of the Mongolians and trade jackets with them, because how cool would it be to have a Mongolian Paralympic jacket?!
There really isn’t much going on here. I have traveled to the base of downhill and checked things out, but everything is still pretty quiet. The waste that is generated at the athlete village is staggering. Coca Cola and McDonalds are major sponsors of the food and drink here, so many things, including drinks, come in some sort of packaging and all of that has to be dealt with. Fortunately, everything so far has been recyclable, with the exception of the McDonald’s packaging.
It is super relaxing to be living here, though. Absolutely everything is taken care of for you so that all you need to think about is when you are getting food and when you are getting on the bus to go to the hill. I can get a massage whenever I want, too. I might just do that, actually.
I just finished up a series of world cup races in Sestriere, Italy, on the same mountain as the 2006 Paralympics. I had two downhills, two super-Gs, and one super combined. The track was almost exactly the same as when we raced on it in the past and the snow was almost perfect, man-made and really fast. We stayed in this hotel called The Belvedere which is supposed to be about four stars, but made sure that most of us were in two star rooms. My room, in particular, had all the humidity from our entire floor funnel into the room, which caused the window and surrounding ceiling to drip with water. After a bit of airing out it was slightly bearable. Below is a clip of my first downhill race. I ended up not skiing the next day. See if you can figure out why.
I ended up breaking my shoulder straps, popping out of my monoski like a cork. I also bent by best downhill ski. I did eventually recover, but I was seriously sore the next day. At he end of these series of races I managed to scrape together a fourth place finish in the final super-G, even after I just about fell half way down, so not too shabby.
A cool ridgeline in Sestriere that I really wish I had a chance to ski.
Before we flew home we spent the night near Munich, Germany. Having some free time on our hands, a bunch of us went in to the city to check things out. The above picture was just one of those things we checked out. Oh the boots!
I just finished the first World Cup stop of the season at Patscherkofel, Austria. We raced on the same hill that held the downhill for the 1964 and 1976 Olympics, but we instead ran a slalom and giant slalom. The track was mostly boiler-plate ice which has proved exceedingly difficult for me to manage. I have not been able to hold an edge reliably at all which has caused me to have disappointing results in both races (second to last in GS, 8th in SL). Each run has had me sliding all over the place with very little control and has even involved a few instances where I slid out completely, slid down the course a ways, pop up again when my edge caught, and continue down the run, having to re-generate all the speed I was carrying. Since these races I have been trying to trouble-shoot the problem without much success. My edges are extremely sharp and my technique is good enough (when I am not sliding out of control) to be able to grip on the ice, yet I still can’t do it. Every coach I talk to seems to be telling me something different about how to correct my problem, but nothing yet has helped.
The base area of Patscherkofel.
Betty-Lynn, the guide dog of Danielle Umstead, one of my teammates. Betty-Lynn and I share a bench seat every day when we go to the hill.
We are staying in the town of Rum, about 3 miles from the center of Innsbruck. This is a view of the Olympic ski jumps above the city.
My roommate, Chris Devlin-Young, aka Captain World Cup.
Tomorrow we are off to Abtenau, Austria for another series of races. Should be fun.
Tyler Walker is a member of the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team and the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team. He won three 2013-14 World Cup globes: Overall, as well as for Speed and Slalom events. He is a national and international sit-ski champion in several alpine disciplines as well as a 2006 and 2010 Paralympian and a three-time X-Games gold medalist.
Tyler graduated in 2008 from the University of New Hampshire with a dual major in geography and international affairs, with minors in political science and German. He currently lives and trains in Franconia, New Hampshire.