20 in 10: Nordic skier Andy Soule
20 in 10 is www.teamusa.org's latest segment in which we have been featuring Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls for the Winter Games in Vancouver in 10-minute interviews. The Paralympic Winter Games begin March 12, with events in Vancouver and in the mountains of Whistler.
Andy Soule of Pearland, Texas, enters the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games as one of Team USA's top Nordic skiers. Competing in both cross-country skiing and biathlon, Soule is ranked fourth in the latest IPC Biathlon World Cup standings and ninth in the Cross Country Skiing World Cup standings.
Soule's journey to Nordic skiing success started in Texas. He was a junior and in ROTC at Texas A&M when the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Foregoing his senior year and plans to commission as an officer, Soule enlisted in the U.S. Army. While deployed in Afghanistan in 2005, an improvised explosive device detonated next to his Humvee, and both of his legs had to be amputated.
After just months of rehabilitation, Soule attended a cross-country skiing recruitment camp. Despite having no prior experience, he began training full time in 2006, and earned a silver medal at the U.S. Championships in 200. He also earned a spot on Team USA for the 2008 season.
In three World Cup events this season, Soule has made the podium twice-finishing first at the event in Sjusjøen, Norway. In Vancouver, Soule will be competing in every cross-country and biathlon event he can: 3-kilometer pursuit and 12.5-kilometer biathlon races as well as the 10- and 15-kilometer and sprint cross-country races.
Chrös McDougall of Red Line Editorial caught up with Andy recently for this interview.
About one week away from the start of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, how do you feel right now?
I'm feeling in good shape, I'm ready to go. I'm skiing fast, feel strong and am excited about it.
You were ranked No. 1 in the IPC Biathlon World Cup standings earlier this year. What are your expectations for yourself coming into these Games?
I think that biathlon events are my best shot at a medal. It's a very tough field in men's biathlon right now. I'm not going in, you know, thinking that a medal is inevitable or anything, but anything can happen in biathlon. If I have a good day, then I've got a good shot at a medal in both of the biathlon events.
I feel pretty good on (cross country). I've been in the top third of the field easily all year there. My best event there in cross country is probably the sprint, which this year, our cross-country sprints at the World Cups did not go very well for me, but a lot of things can happen in sprinting. I think I've got a decent shot in the sprint. On any given day, I've got a chance to at least make the finals in the sprint. Making the finals would be top four.
Going back a little bit, what made you want to join the U.S. Army?
I was in college and I was in ROTC. I was just burned out on school for one thing, and I was not doing well in college, and I decided that I needed a change and needed to go out and do something else in my life for a while. I was already planning on being in the Army after college and was seeking a commission as an officer. So I put that on hold. I decided to go ahead and enlist and maybe pursue a college degree later. This was also right after September 11th, and I sort of felt that the country needed soldiers at that moment.
In college you were part of the Texas A&M Cadet program. Can you talk a bit about that and what you learned from that program?
Texas A&M Core Cadets is a good, intense, full-time core of cadets. It definitely gives you discipline and structure to your life that I otherwise just wouldn't have had, the ability to persevere through tough times.
I was there for three years. I am actually planning on attending college this fall. I will be going to a small technical school in southern Oklahoma called Murray State College, seeking an associate's degree in gunsmithing.
After your amputation, how long did it take you to even begin thinking about competing in a sport like this?
I started trying out a few different sports within three or four months, and I did a long distance hand-cycle ride about five months out from injury. So I was actually pretty quick getting into sports. And it was on that ride that I met the guy who got me into cross-country skiing.
Did you try any other sports before finding cross-country skiing?
I played quite a bit of sitting volleyball, and I haven't competed at them that often but I spent a good deal of time practicing and working out at wheelchair racing and at swimming. I have only competed in both of those once or twice, but I've practiced both sports fairly extensively (largely before starting cross-country skiing).
Coming from Texas, what were your initial impressions of cross-country skiing?
I didn't know that much about the sport, but it's a fun sport and gets you off the beaten path. It's one of the sports where a disabled person can get off the roads and back into the woods and stuff, so it's fun in that way. It is just a really interesting sport, not something I'd ever done as a kid or anything.
I actually enjoyed being out in the snow. I grew up in California and we went up into the mountains once or twice a year and made sure to go up and play in the snow once in a while. So it's not something that's completely new to me. My grandparents are from Michigan.
What about biathlon: When did you start that, and what were your first impressions?
My first World Cup race was actually a biathlon event, and I sort of competed in it on and off for the next couple of years as the U.S. Ski Team would allow me to. It has always been a sport that ever since I knew about it, it has been an interesting sport to me. The mix between a hard aerobics sport combined with a precision activity like shooting really interested me. I competed in it every chance I got, which wasn't always (a lot), but this past year we started getting a lot of support from the U.S. Biathlon team, so I have competed in every World Cup this year in both disciplines, cross-country and biathlon, and I'm actually really liking that. It has turned out to work out really well.
How did your experience in the Army affect your approach to training for Nordic skiing?
Athletic training is definitely a bit different than military training. It is a specialized approach to a small set of specific skills. But certainly the military training helped me to develop discipline and perseverance. It has helped me along the way in pursuing excellence in the skiing sports. So I think it has helped in that way.
You've mentioned a longtime interest in guns and shooting, and are going back to college for gunsmithing. Can you talk about your background in shooting and what you like about it?
I grew up target shooting with my dad on a semi-regular basis. I followed the activity and I enjoyed it, and it is something I continued to pursue since I got out of the army. The only shooting sport that I ever competed in at a high level is biathlon, but it was an activity that I always enjoyed; it was a fun activity, there is a lot to it.
To this point, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment on skis?
Definitely my World Cup win in Norway this past December. I won a biathlon sprint race, so that was a really big moment for me. It was a strong, competitive field there; it was under tough conditions, and it was the first time I ever was on top of the podium.
How much of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games were you able to watch?
I watched a little bit; paying more attention to results and maybe watching some replays. I haven't had it on constantly. But it is nice to see some of those sports actually get some coverage.
How does it make you feel to watch other Team USA athletes find so much success?
It is motivating to see that kind of athletic performance. It's fun to watch other athletes, but really my concentration is on what I'm doing, not what someone else is doing.