February 26, 2014
2014 Overall IPC Alpine World Cup Champion
2014 Overall IPC World Cup Slalom Champion
2014 Overall IPC World Cup Overall Speed Champion- Downhill and Super-G
February 5, 2014
I have officially been nominated to the 2014 US Paralympic Team, a press release from US Paralympics has just told me, but this does not surprise me very much. I am sitting on my couch, not jumping for joy and my heart rate has only slightly registered the news. I am happy, sure, but I have expected to accomplish this for a long time.
I do not want to come off as cocky or ungrateful, so allow me to explain. I have been racing on the US Paralympics Alpine Ski Team for about ten years. In order to be on the team for this long I have had to be consistently successful. All of my training in the mental and physical aspects of this sport has been towards success on the race hill. I do not always win, but in general I have been quite successful. For me, doing well at a race, is the equivalent of turning in a decent term paper for university or completely fulfilling your job expectations at work. Granted, my job is a really unique and exciting one, but it is still a job. I expect to go to the Paralympics like university students expect to graduate or people expect to be promoted after years of hard work.
Winning a medal at the Paralympics will be another matter entirely.
It is considered a grand thing to win a medal at the Olympics and Paralympics. A lifetime of hard work leads to one moment to shine. Some people have several chances but the idea is the same. Statistically, doing well at the Olympics and Paralympics is very unlikely. The race itself is like any other, albeit with more people watching and cameras recording your every move. Ski racing is extremely intense and you have to perform at your full potential immediately, for about two minutes. If you let up at all, you lose. Therefore, the rate at which you have a great run is really low. The chances of everything working out for you for a single two minute run every four years, as you can imagine, is really low.
I find the pressure from coaches, teammates, family, friends, and media to do well at a single race every four years to be very frustrating. In many ways, winning the overall World Cup title is harder to do and better reflects who is the best skier in the world. Athletes know this and this title is much sought after. It is much harder to explain this concept to the rest of the world. Everyone loves a hero, and what better way to become one than winning at the most important sporting event the world has ever seen?
With all that said, I am very excited to have the opportunity to compete in Sochi this March. I have a burning desire to win every event I compete in, despite the odds. I know this goal is mildly unrealistic, but in an environment like the Paralympics you tend get caught up in things. There is always the chance that I will not achieve a podium in any event, and I will have to accept that this is a possible outcome. In the last two Paralympics this outcome became my reality and it was devastating. My mind went to some very dark places for a long time. I might have to deal with this reality again, and I fear that this will be one of the greatest mental challenges I have yet faced.
January 17-31, 2014
World Cup Races at Copper, Colorado and Tignes, France
You can’t win every race, but every ski racer definitely tries to do so. This was exactly what I was trying to do in the second slalom of the World Cup in Copper, CO last week. After a wild ride on the first run I was sitting in sixth place. I should have been happy that I even finished the run because ruts were developing that almost sent me head-over-heels multiple times. In IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Cup races, sit-skiers, my class, run last after two other classes: the visually impaired and standing (people missing a leg or an arm but ski standing up). This means that I run after at least 60 people, so the course has really deteriorated by the time that I run.
Fourth place is a really irritating place to be in. You almost made it, but not quite. All the time and effort, just to be the first person not on the podium. One fourth is not so bad, but by the end of the Copper World Cup I had a streak of several fourths and fifths and it was starting to wear on me. I wanted to win so badly but I kept making weird little mistakes in every run. To make it worse, the same people seemed to win every day. I have always striven to be fast and consistent, but it sometimes seems as unattainable as the desire to be come an astronaut.
Fast forward to the present and I am now in Tignes, France at another World Cup race. I have been here several times over my career and every time there has been more snow at this one place than any other ski area I have seen. This trip has not disappointed in that regard, as we got two feet of snow in the first two days. This meant that the first downhill training run was cancelled in favor of powder skiing, my favorite event. I love racing, but I live for powder skiing. Two days of this completely reset my mood and perspective towards the entire sport. Anyone who is moderately good at skiing will understand how the feeling of flying over fluffy clouds of powder will completely remove a bad mood.
Today the weather cleared up and we were able to have a downhill training run in the morning. In the afternoon, due to our now shortened schedule because of the snow, we ran the fist of two downhill races. Because of the powder skiing, I was in such a good mood that I won the first training run and got second in the race. I had some obvious mistakes in the race run, but I am so happy now that I don’t even care. I can just let it go and move on to the next race. That is the power of powder.
— This is the second in a series of articles I am writing for the Littleton Record newspaper.
January 11, 2014
World Cup Race, Panorama, British Columbia
Ski races hardly ever turn out according to plan. If they did, everyone would win. So it always helps to try and create as much fun as possible amidst the chaos of unpredictability.
During a recent World Cup event, this pursuit of fun left me stuck between a pile of rocks and a pine tree in the back bowl of Panorama, B.C. It had snowed just enough to cancel the super-combined race we had scheduled for the day, so my teammate, Chris Devlin-Young and I decided to follow some coaches to a snow field where the powder was rumored to be deeper than anywhere else on the mountain.
After a lot of traversing through un-tracked powder I accidentally scraped over a pile of rocks I couldn’t see. In an effort to extract myself, I fell off the rocks and into a tree-well. After ten minutes and a lot of pushing and digging, I got myself out and onto the snowfield.
The effort was worth it, though, as the snowfield had seemingly bottomless powder and the way down was easily one of the funnest runs I have had this season.
Chris, who coached me at Loon Mountain for several years before I made the national team, was the driving force to get me from recreational skier to World Cup competitor, and is one of the few people I trust to get themselves into and out of tricky skiing situations.
Creating fun on this trip has been of great importance. I am very well prepared for this season and my confidence in my abilities is high, but luck still plays a huge role in ski racing. Inserting elements of fun into this journey to the Sochi Paralympics keeps the seriousness of competition from becoming too overwhelming.
The following description of my races will make it clear how serious the competition can get.
Downhill was the first race at this location. I was feeling really good about it because it started off with a series of technical turns, which I do really well, with the last half being much straighter and faster. Unfortunately I don’t ski fast, straight courses very well because I don’t weight very much and I wasn’t able to ski the technical part precisely enough which ended my day in eighth place, a few seconds out of first. On Sunday, after the powder day, we were able to race a super-combined (one run each of downhill and slalom) and I had similar problems with the downhill portion. I redeemed myself in the slalom, however, by winning that portion handily. Unfortunately, the effort was only enough to out me in into fourth, an immensely infuriating position to be in.
On Monday we ran giant slalom and it started off great, only to end in more frustration. I won the first run by one hundredth of a second and there were about ten guys within a second of my time. I was feeling rally good for the second run and my mind thought I had the race wrapped up. Unfortunately, I ended up not skiing dangerously enough to remain on top, and I ended up fifth.
Tuesday was the super-G (faster and straighter than giant slalom, but a bit slower than downhill) and I was really excited for it because of its more technical nature compared to downhill. My excitement was to be short-lived, however. When I inspected the course it appeared to be technical enough for me to win, but when I ran it, the course turned out to be faster than the downhill. This deception happens on occasion but I still managed another fifth.
About Me: I learned to ski and race a Cannon Mountain, Loon Mountain, and Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. I happen to be missing both of my legs at the knee, and I ski using a device called a mono ski or sit ski. This device is much like the rear end of a mountain bike, where a metal frame moves up and down with the help of a shock absorber. I sit, strapped in on the top of the frame, with a single ski on the bottom in place of a wheel This mono ski allows me to ski just like someone standing up, but in a sitting position. I am currently trying to qualify for and hopefully compete in the Paralympics this year in Sochi, Russia. The Paralympics, for clarification, are the same as the Olympics, but for people with physical disabilities. Competition takes place in the same location as the Olympics, just a few weeks. later.
— This is the second in a series of articles I am writing for the Littleton Record newspaper.
Russia is different.
I have always thought that if were a foreigner flying to the United States, customs was a most unwelcoming and frustrating first experience of this country. Getting into the EU, on the other hand, is super easy and they seem to actually want you to be there. Going to Russia is like going to the United States. You have to fill out a lengthy application and they want to know everything about you. When you get there you have to recheck all of your bags and recheck-in for your next flight. When you are on a 20 person team and every one of you has at least 4 bags at or above 50lbs, this is no easy task. The trip took a while, but we made it.
One of my first experiences of Russia was quite funny. My teammates and I were all sitting at the back of the plane, waiting to disembark in Sochi. Our wheelchairs had not come up to the plane yet so we inquired to the steward if they were going to come up to the plane at all. He pauses for a moment, looks out the door of the plane, looks back at us, and with a slight frown says “I will ask, but this is Russia.” (Where did they go? Siberia?)
We stayed in this completely manufactured village called Rosa Khutor that consists of nothing but giant hotels and a sewage infested river running through the middle. The nearest real town is about 30 minutes down the valley. There is construction going on all along the valley, 24/7, and I have never seen so many dump trucks and concrete mixers in one place.
The security situation in this area is intense. Sochi is just barely north of the Georgian border, which Russia invaded a few years ago over a dispute about Russians living in several regions bordering Russia. This did not go well for Georgia, so they are not exactly friends. Chechnya, a republic of Russia, is a few hundred kilometers to the east, and Russia has had to quell several uprisings over the past few decades. Due to all of this one can see not just the police everywhere, but the army, too. The ski area is accessed by one gondola and you are only allowed to go up there on the days you are racing, so freeskiing is not possible. You also need to pass through full airport-like security run by guards who have no sense of humor and are not allowed to smile. The skiing looks like it would be great and the mountain is huge and steep, but the chances of running into hidden machine gun nests and razor wire are rather higher than your average ski area.
The downhill is awesome. We ran down the men’s downhill which has all sorts of cool terrain features, including steeps, flats, fall-away turns, and a real jump! We don’t often have jumps in our downhills because there are some disability classes that are not well suited to flying through the air, or so I have been told. I saw all the disability classes go down the course and they did just fine, with no one class crashed more than the other. The track was a ton of fun and if you ran it correctly you were in the air for quite some time. Due to very soft snow and warm weather, we ran the only training run of the downhill and the first race on the same day. Normally a downhill takes two days of training and one day of racing. I ended up winning the race because of a perfect combination of a bumpy track, technical turns, and a jump I was not at all afraid of going full speed on. The next day we had another downhill and my teammate, Chris Devlin-Young, won. It bodes well for next year.
The next day it started to rain. We were supposed to run a super-combined but the track go too soft and the visibility was too bad so we just ran a slalom. In the slalom I was top ten in the first run and easily within striking distance for the podium. In my second run I skied some of the best slalom I have ever skied, but I went too straight into a flush just before the finish and flipped over the wrong side of the last few gates. This has been a pattern the whole year, but I know that once I get my consistency, I will crush slaloms.
At the end of this World Cup season I ended up third in the giant slalom standings and I won the speed events globe (we don’t have enough races to do separate globes for downhill and super-g, and a crystal globe is the first place prize of any world cup overall category). Overall it wasn’t a bad year, but I have the skills to be the best.
Thanks to all my sponsors for helping me through another season. Nike, Starz Entertainment, Aspen Seating, POC and Enabling Technologies make it happen!
Here are some pictures!
These World Championships have been a challenging time. The downhill track was really long, but half of it was really flat, which does not benefit me because I have the least amount of mass of the entire men’s monoski field. The second half of the track was quite steep, but the turns were not technically challenging, so I couldn’t make up all the time I had lost in the flats. Regardless, I skied as fast a run as I was able, but all I could manage was 10th place. The super-g was the same situation but the field became slightly more competitive and I ended up in 12th.
The rest of the races ended up even worse for me. I did not manage to finish the super-combined, giant slalom or slalom due my equipment setup and the snow conditions. All of these events require a great deal of stivot turns, which means that you pivot your ski at the top of the turn to give the ski more direction towards the next turn than you would have with a normal, carved turn. Stivots are used when you can’t generate enough pressure quickly enough to make the turn in a clean arc because of the high speed, snow conditions, and/or steepness of the hill. My monoski carves an amazing turn, but does not stivot very well when the snow is really hard, which it was.
The World Championships were not a complete loss, however. On the last day we had a team event in the form of a mini skier-cross. We had an 18 second track with berms and bumps and we each went down it one at a time, with the three fastest times from your country recorded. As a team we managed second place, and I was the second fastest monoskier down the track, only a few hundredths off the fastest. I felt quite at home after many years of X-Games. It was not the most important race of the event, but it made the entire team a little bit happier.
The pressure of an even like the World Championships and to a greater extent the Paralympics, are unique in the world of ski racing. If you want to win, everything has to come together for you in one brief moment lasting no more than two minutes. All your training and media exposure you experience in the years prior is all focused on winning in these two main events, and you only have one shot every few years. If one tiny thing goes wrong, it seems like you have just wasted years of your life for nothing. If you can’t tell yet, I am not a fan of these events. The regular world cup is, in a sense, much harder and a better gauge for who is a better skier. To win a world cup overall title, you have to ski consistently well the entire season. In this environment I have done much better, winning three overall titles in two disciplines in my career. I have never had success at the World Championships or Paralympics, and those two events are all people seem to remember and care about. It is a uniquely infuriating circumstance, but that is what powder days are for.
Here are some pictures from the World Championships.
I have been nominated for an ESPY under the category of Best Male Athlete With A Disability! The winner of an ESPY, however, is determined by public voting. This means you, the public, must go to the ESPY website and VOTE! If you are not familiar with the ESPYS, they are an awards show put together by ESPN that honors athletic accomplishments. They also have about as much craziness as the Academy Awards and other similar award shows so if you are looking for something to watch on July 11th at 9pm ET they should prove to be most entertaining.
Here is the link: http://www.espn.com/espys
You have many options of people to vote for, but I would greatly appreciate your vote in my particular category. I won’t be like a political candidate and promise a world of things I have no power to give in order to get your vote. However, if I am ever in possession of large quantities of punch and pie, I would throw a huge punch and pie party and all of my supporters would be invited, with good times to be had by all. After all, who doesn’t like punch and pie, especially together? I digress. In conclusion, go vote!
I just came back from a shock testing camp at Mt. Hood, Oregon. During that time I experimented with my Go Pro camera to capture what my suspension was doing while I was skiing. I mounted the camera under my seat, aimed it at my suspension, and this is what I came up with.
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
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 in Colorado where he trains in Aspen and Colorado Springs.
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