Evan Strong won the first-ever gold medal in Paralympic snowboard cross at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Evan Strong has zipped through the past few weeks the way he tears down a mountain. At high speed, everything is just a bit blurry.
“Life has gone crazy,” he said, laughing. “It’s gone so big and I’m still digesting the experience. There was just so much energy surrounding the Games and it’s just … Things have been speeding up like a foot on the gas pedal, and I’ve just been holding on and enjoying the ride.”
Strong was speaking after leaving the White House Thursday following a day spent with about 200 other Paralympic and Olympic athletes meeting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Two days earlier, the town of Nevada City, Calif., had turned out for a special celebration and parade in honor of Strong, a resident, who won a gold medal in Sochi and led a U.S. men’s sweep in the Paralympic debut of snowboard cross.
After returning to the United States as the only American individual gold-medal winner at Sochi, Strong spent about a week in New York making media appearances. He also learned he’ll be on the front of a cereal box that comes out soon.
“It’s kind of like the American dream,” Strong said. “Win a gold medal and be so good to be put on the Wheaties box, so it’s definitely surreal.”
And his whirlwind adventure isn’t over. As Strong talked about Sochi and his post-Games activities, he was being driven through Washington, D.C., to the airport for a flight to Colorado, where he’ll compete this week in the national championships at Copper Mountain. Even though he’d only had two days of boarding at Lake Tahoe since Sochi, he wasn’t sweating the national championships.
In fact, after the long grind of preparation for Sochi and the pressures of performing AT the Games, he was looking forward to competing at Copper Mountain.
“I definitely want to go out there and ride fast and ride strong, but it’s also a much more relaxed atmosphere,” he said. “So if you’re not at your peak performance, that’s OK, because you’re there to snowboard with your friends and have a good time.”
In Sochi, Strong, 27, did come up with a peak performance, holding off U.S. teammates and good friends Mike Shea and Keith Gabel in a tight contest in which Strong and Shea took turns in the lead until the final run.
“Being able to share the experience with them and be up on the podium with them and be able to have three American flags raised with the national anthem, it was an explosive experience,” Strong said. “Just amazing. I had so much fun.”
Then to get a chance to go to the White House to be honored with his fellow athletes by the president put a bow on the whole Paralympic experience.
“It was such an honor to be able to, for one, achieve a gold for the country, but to be able to bring it and share it with the president is an amazing thing,” said Strong, who lost his left leg below the knee following a motorcycle accident when he was 17. “It really felt like a great conclusion of being together with all your teammates, the Olympians and Paralympians, at the White House. That kind of acknowledgement brought if full circle.”
The celebration in Nevada City, too — where he lives with his wife, Mariah, and owns and operates a restaurant — was touching in a far more personal way.
As he walks around his town, people greet him and he feels their support, he says. They watched the Games and cheered him on, and he says his friends and neighbors always have been supportive of him. Even his restaurant, The Fix For Foodies, has been packed with well-wishers lately.
“They’ve all been so proud and so happy to see me, and so supportive,” he said. “It’s given me so much good energy. It was good to be able to bring that energy back home to share it with my community.”
Though he’s enjoyed all the attention he’s received and the places he’s gone and people he’s met, he says being home to rest for a few days — and sleeping in his own bed again — has been his favorite recent experience.
“I’ve been running off bare-minimum sleep the last couple of weeks, so being able to get that sort of restful, restorative quiet time at home has been just so nice,” he said.
After the national championships, he’ll get a chance to return home and get back to normal. But in four years, it’s possible he could be in line for more excitement. He has his eyes on the next Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea in 2018.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun riding my board, getting faster, getting stronger, getting fitter, so as long as I’m still having fun and learning, I’m still going to be around. I definitely want to be around for another Games.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for USParalympics.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.