Colorado Springs, CO
The US Olympic Training Center (OTC) is much like a small college campus where Olympic and National Team athletes can live and train year round, often for many years in a row. Instead of classrooms and lecture halls there are workout facilities, gymnasiums, an Olympic size pool, and an indoor shooting range (particular to the OTC in Colorado). There are three OTCs in the US, each with very different training facilities. One in Chula Vista, California where many track and field, BMX, field hockey, and rowing athletes train; another in Lake Placid, New York where many of the bobsled, skeleton, and luge athletes train; and Colorado Springs, Colorado where many wrestling, weightlifting, triathlon, swimming, shooting and alpine skiing athletes train. The OTCs all provide very good food in such a way where it is very easy and encouraged to eat specifically for the needs of your body and your sport. The campuses are worlds unto themselves, providing for every athlete’s basic needs and are really neat places to see if you ever visit any of these cities.
A few days before the Sochi Paralympics officially ended, I flew to the OTC in Colorado Springs to begin physical therapy to repair strained and bruised muscles caused by my downhill crash, as well as monitor the substantial concussion I sustained. The OTC here has an amazing sports medicine facility where you end up spending a lot of time once you have broken yourself in the pursuit of excellence. They have many different methods for fixing you including massage, strength training, hot and cold plunges, muscle zapper machines (it’s a technical term, I swear), ultrasound, as well as MRI, X-Ray, and DXA scan machines. Sports Medicine is always staffed by several highly trained physical therapists and doctors who can fix just about anything.
Part of the process of diagnosing what I damaged in my Sochi crash has included several encounters with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, which are fascinating. It produces a magnetic field around your body that excites hydrogen atoms in your tissues, causing you to produce a radio frequency. The machine can detect how quickly the frequency returns to normal, the rate of which determines the difference between bone, muscle, fat and other tissues, thus giving you an accurate image of your innards. The technology is much like a microwave oven, in fact, causing your body to heat up noticeably.
A few days ago I spent an hour in one of these machines, trying to lay perfectly still while it microwaved my spine, no easy task due to the immense amount of pain in my lower spine. The MRI technician assured me that the microwaving aspect of the machine was safe, but the heat building up in my body did not put me at ease. I endured the pain, the cause of which was determined to be bruising of the first two lumbar vertebrae in my spine. Considering the forces involved in my crash at the Sochi Paralympics I am lucky to have escaped with a bruised spine being the only damage to my skeleton.
Recovering from the concussion has been particularly challenging. Since my crash I have gone through periods of intense dizziness, nausea, and vomiting with overwhelming sensitivity to light and noise. In the first week I could barely withstand being outside my quiet, darkened room for more than ten minutes. Flying home was another challenge. I got to fly first class the whole way, with the beds, good food, big TV screens, and supermodel flight attendants, but I could enjoy very little of it because I was too sore to sleep, would throw up the food, and couldn’t stand looking at the brightness of the monitor. It was also challenging to look outside as trying to focus on near and far objects quickly proved to be very uncomfortable.
I am getting better. I spent the first week here sleeping most of the time, emerging briefly for meals and therapy. Each day the pain and discomfort become a little bit less and it is a bit easier to do everything. Now most of the concussion symptoms have passed, I can sit in my chair and push around easily, and I have been able to do light workouts. I am still quite sore in my back and core, but I expect to fully recover in another few weeks. The staff and facilities at the OTC have been instrumental in the healing process and I am very thankful for all their help.
March 8, 2014
Rhosa Khotor, Russia
Paralympic Downhill Race
Beep! 30 seconds. I push up to the starting gate, trying to find a good place to put my outriggers so that I push through the starting wand with maximum speed. I must breath! My heart-rate is too high. Remember to reach with the outside hand and drive with the uphill hand! I must remember to do that. Beep! 10 seconds. People are yelling behind me. Encouragement. I take a quick and deep breath, planting my riggers in the snow. Nothing but the run. I just need to focus on the run!
Beep! 5 seconds. Breath hard.
Beep! 4 seconds. Breath hard. People are still yelling.
Beep! 3 seconds. Breath hard.
Beep! 2 seconds. Push out! Push, push, push! Yelling fades behind me. I flip my outriggers down when the speed picks up. I need to calm back down for the first turn, to get my body back under control from the adrenaline. Ok, I’m calm. The first turn is easy, just a little bit of edge and look for the exit. I don’t need too much direction, not as much as last run. I’m coming out of the first turn now and I see the next one. I’m going to nail it this time! No sliding, no holding back. I’m carving this one. Ok, release turn one, see the rise line, and start the pressure. I feel the edge engaging. This is going to be a great turn.
I can’t move. Everything is bright. I can hear people moving around me. Have I been sleeping? It must have been a really good sleep. I can hardly move after a really good sleep. I hear a dragging sound underneath me. I am being dragged. Why am I being dragged? Where am I? What was I doing? Nothing. I’ve got nothing. Ok, what do I know? For some reason my head is locked down tighter than anything else. I hear dragging. Dragging side to side. A sled! I must be in a sled. Where are there sleds? Ski areas! Ski areas have sleds. Wait, they have sleds for injured people. Damn. I’m in one of those. Ok, I’m injured, at a ski area. Don’t panic. Where am I, though? Come on, memory! Where am I?! Wait, do I hear a helicopter? That’s cool. I like helicopters. I’ve always wanted to ride in one. Ooh! The people are picking me up and sliding me into the helicopter! That’s awesome! Helicopter ride!
Russia! I’m in Russia! Why am I in Russia? Paralympics! Those are happening right now! What event was today? Downhill! I think I was worried about the downhill for some reason. Oh damn, I messed up my run somehow and now I am being flown off the hill in a helicopter. It must have been one heck of a crash. I wonder how far I made it? Damn, can’t remember. Not important. Ok, can I feel everything? Lets check. Stumps, where are you? Hey! There you are. I can feel those. The injuries must not be too bad. No bad pain yet, but I am sure that will come. That neck brace is probably for precaution. I wonder if the Russian paramedics speak english? I need to tell them what hurts so they can tend to me properly. I really don’t want them to screw anything up. Oh, hey there! “Hello! Where pain? Tell!” He says.
That is what I remember thinking and experiencing the moments before and after my crash in the Paralympic downhill at Rosa Khutor, Russia. I had never experienced anything like it and I never want to again. I won’t watch the crash footage, but from what I can gather from other people, I had an amazing run going until gate nine where I hit a unique sequence of bumps that my body and suspension couldn’t compensate for. I had not expected this part of the course to be a problem, but I was thrown head over heels several times, lost consciousness, broke some of my equipment, and ended up in a crumpled heap a few hundred meters down from the bump I had just launched off at more than 60 miles per hour.
When I got to the hospital the doctors immediately cut all my clothes off, covered me in a sheet, and sent me through a CAT scan as well as an MRI. Miraculously the results showed me to be unbroken both times. If you saw the crash you would have thought otherwise. An hour after the crash the pain started. If you are curious as to what that felt like, go work out everything in your body to complete exhaustion, then keep doing it until you are physically incapable of movement. Then have someone smash a baseball bat upside your head.
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I was not more injured. This crash could have ended up far worse. I am very sorry for scaring people and that was never my intention. What I was trying to do was win the race. I had a plan worked out before I ran that would have done just that and I had executed it flawlessly up until the crash. My plan included nothing that I wasn’t sure I was physically capable of doing, but as I have said before, you can be the most well trained, prepared person on the hill but luck still plays a role.
I am on the mend now and improving daily. I have no permanent damage and I fully intend on getting back on skis and going fast again. I am a little upset for having another unsuccessful Paralympics, but overwhelmingly happy to be healthy. Russia has put on a very good Paralympics and the people I have met here are amazing, but it is now time to go home.
Sochi, Russia at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center
The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort is located at the Aibga Ridge. It is a single venue and hosts all Alpine Skiing disciplines at both the Olympics and Paralympics: Downhill, Combined (downhill and slalom), Giant Slalom and the Super Giant Slalom. The total length of the competition tracks is 20 km.
NBC Olympics’ coverage will include all five Paralympic winter sports – alpine skiing (which includes snowboarding), biathlon, cross-country skiing, wheelchair curling and ice sledge hockey – 52 hours of coverage spread across 11 days on NBC and NBCSN.
All times listed below are Sochi, Russia time
MEN’S DOWNHILL, Sitting
11:50 am Saturday, March 8, 2014
Watch live on NBCSN @ 1 am ET onMarch 9
MEN’S SUPER-G, Sitting
12:15 pm Sunday, March 9, 2014
Watch live on NBCSN@ 2 am ET on March 10
MEN’S SUPER COMBINED DOWNHILL, Sitting
12:30 pm Tuesday, March 11, 2014
MEN’S SUPER COMBINED SLALOM, Sitting
18:05 pm Tuesday, March 11, 2014
MEN’S SLALOM 1st RUN, Sitting
17:55 pm Thursday, March 13, 2014
MEN’S SLALOM 2nd RUN, Sitting
20:35 pm Thursday, March 13, 2014
MEN’S GIANT SLALOM 1st RUN, Sitting
11:45 am Saturday, March 15, 2014
Watch live on NBCSN @ 4:40 am ET on March 16
MEN’S GIANT SLALOM 2nd RUN, Sitting
14:55 pm Saturday, March 15, 2014
February 25, 2014
World Cup Finals
It is extremely difficult to write while Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner is playing at ear drum rupturing volume in the background. That is an inconvenience I am willing to live with, however, because this song is what my teammates and I play when we have had a particularly good day. Today we just finished the downhill portion of the world cup finals with my teammate Chris Devlin-Young finishing with a second and third place in two races, securing for himself the world cup downhill title for this year. I did not podium, but two top ten finishes today made me second in the downhill rankings. It also means that, with only two races left in the world cup season this year, I have enough points in the overall world cup rankings to completely secure the overall world cup title for all races combined. Chris, who has been racing much longer than myself, tells me that no American male has ever won the world cup overall title. Excuse me while I go see if the music can get any louder.
The world cup races this season have taken a back seat in importance in regards to the Paralympics coming up next week. Regardless, you can’t help but take them seriously once you are in the starting gate. Winning the overall world cup title is much like a lifetime achievement award and it literally takes a lifetime of training and racing to be consistent enough to even come close. Many things have to come together at the right time including equipment, technique, training and coaching. I have an amazing coaching staff and lots of supporters and sponsors who have all made this possible.
I now have one more race and a few days off before I travel to Sochi. I am really enjoying Italy including its culinary delights, although I really need to find a source of vegetables soon. They love their pasta and meat here, especially when they can enjoy it over three hours and twelve courses. The snow is plentiful, however, and the people are very nice and helpful.
The Paralympics always seem like they are looming in the horizon. In a few days we will get our uniforms and final lectures about logistics and proper decorum during the games. I have been told many times about what I can and cannot say about my experience at the games, so future updates might not be as entertaining as I would like. I can tell you that there are a lot of strange rules I have to follow and you may have to Google between the lines. By now you have probably seen some parts of the uniform and some of the venues in Sochi. We will be wearing the same clothes and competing in the same places, but with different logos. We will still look fabulous.
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 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.
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.
Tyler grew up in Franconia, New Hampshire. Learning how to ski at Cannon Mountain, Tyler eventually qualified for the US Paralympics Alpine Ski Team in 2003, which he has been a member of ever since. Tyler attended the University of New Hampshire from 2004 to 2008 where he earned a dual degree in geography and international affairs, with minors in political science and German. Since 2004 Tyler has had a very successful skiing career, competing in the Paralympics in 2006, 2010, and 2014. During that time Tyler was also a three-time Winter X-Games gold medalist in Monoskier-X and 2014 overall World Cup champion. Since 2010 Tyler has lived and trained in Aspen, Colorado along with many of his teammates.