Interview with Paralympic Alpine Skier Tyler Walker!
by 20 November 2013, 12:59 AM
I had the pleasure of getting to know skier Tyler Walker in September while he was living at the Olympic Training. He is an alpine skier competing in downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-g and super combined. Tyler’s been competing in World Cups since 2005 and has won multiple national and international events, not to mention 3 ESPN Winter X Game Titles. We’d run into each other at dinner a couple times a week and during the delicious Sunday brunch. We’d bond over our past trips to Germany, the TV show Homeland and he gave me the idea to put bacon on the weekly Belgium waffle we’d both get. Tyler is one of the most humble, generous and high spirited people I’ve ever met. I asked him questions about his story, motivations and outlook on life:
I call it Blue Steel, He calls it Magnum… We agree to disagree.
1) Tell me a little bit about your background and how you became involved in Paralympic sports.
I grew up in Franconia, NH which is a really small town in Northern New Hampshire. The main thing to do up there is enjoy the outdoors, and the biggest attraction is Cannon Mountain, my home ski area. While I was growing up all my friends would go skiing after school and on weekends. Naturally, I wanted to do what they where doing, so I begged my parents to let me go ski. When I was born they did not think I would be able to ski with them, so they sold all of their equipment. After some persuasion, my Dad built a sled for me with cross-country skis bolted to the bottom, and I would sled down the ski runs. A bit later, he got a snowboard and bolted a seat of sorts to the top, and I would sit in that and lean to each side to steer. After a few years of experimenting this way my parents got in touch with some local adaptive skiing programs. Through these programs I was introduced to purpose built devices that allowed me to ski like I do now, one of which was called a monoski due to the single ski attached to the bottom of a bike-like frame. After a few years of learning how to ski properly at these programs I was introduced to adaptive ski racing. After many years of training I qualified for the national team and eventually the paralympics in 2006 and 2010.
2) When you were initially recovering from your injury, did you ever imagine you would one day be competing for a spot at a Paralympic Games? At what point in your training did you realize that was a realistic goal for you?
I was born with my disability (lumbar sacral agenesis, if you are curious) so there was no recovery. My reality has always been that I am different than everyone else, but this reality is my normal. There wasn’t ever anything super difficult to overcome, but I always found ways to compensate for my lack of legs and do everything I needed to do. Years ago, when I was first learning how to ski, I didn’t imagine it could lead to anything like the Paralympics. In my first year of ski racing, however, I found out there was such a thing as the Paralympic Ski Team and the associated level of skiing. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be a part of that, and shaped all my decisions with that goal in mind. When I finally made the national team I fully expected to make the Paralmypics as well. My level of skiing was good enough and there was never much doubt.
3) What is the most difficult part about skiing with lumbar sacral agenesis?
The most difficult thing about skiing for me is trying to ski at the same level as my able-bodied counterparts. When I ski I am strapped to this machine that is trying to replicate a set of legs. Unfortunately, this machine cannot think for itself, has no instinct, and can only be set up one way. Legs, on the other hand, are infinitely adjustable in terms of where and how you can use them, and much of this adjustment can be made sub-consciously by your brain. I cannot do that with my monoski. I have to ski within the parameters in which it was designed. Therefore, I often have to find alternative ways to ski the same slope, when I know that legs could do the same thing much more efficiently.
4) What is your number one goal for this competition season?
My number one goal is to ski at my full potential for each race, especially the paralympics. There are so many factors that go into each race, including your equipment, technique, and mental state. I want to get all of those at the best point possible. If they are, then I win the race.
5) Have you tried/competed in any other adaptive or Paralympic sports? Which ones are your favorites? Which are the most challenging?
Not really. Skiing is so exciting and dangerous and I have not found anything that comes close.
6) What is your biggest motivation for competing in Paralympic sports?
I want to show the world what the human body is capable of, especially a body that was set up differently from the beginning.
7) Do you think it is important for the wider community to be more aware of Paralympic sports? Why?
Absolutely. What we do is really cool. We are elite athletes at the top of our sports and I know that when people see that, they will get really excited themselves, fomenting a sense of pride and, hopefully, their own motivation to better themselves.
8) What changes have you seen in yourself, mental or physical, since becoming involved in Paralympic sports?
I have learned how to be a better athlete. I have become stronger physically and mentally, and I have learned how to use those strengths in an effective manner. I also know what it is like to set a really high goal for yourself, break it down, and accomplish every step until you get to the end.
Check out this awesome video of Tyler climbing the incline! A true inspiration to all. Be sure to watch Tyler when he competes in the 2014 Winter Paralympics!
Connect with Tyler