Alpine skier Tyler Walker off to flying start
Tyler Walker, a two-time U.S. Paralympian, hopes for success at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships before making his first Paralympic podium appearance at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Tyler Walker grew up in the shadow of Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire and saw it every day when he went out his front door.
So it was only a matter of time before he started flying down it.
He started skiing in adaptive programs at Waterville Valley and Loon Mountain and his passion for the sport grew as did his talent.
These days, he is showing the world how far he has come.
A two-time Paralympian (Torino, Vancouver) and longtime member of the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team, Walker is primed for a big 2013 season after starting with a bang earlier this month in Copper Mountain, Colo. Walker dominated at the 2012 IPC Alpine Skiing NorAm Cup, winning five of six races and coming in second in the one race he didn't win. He won two super-Gs, one giant slalom and both slaloms while finishing second in the other giant slalom race, finishing behind teammate Heath Calhoun.
"Tyler is really focused and had a great performance at Copper Mountain," U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing High Performance Director and coach Kevin Jardine said. "He didn't just win his races, he was two, two-and-a-half seconds ahead of the field. His performance was incredible."
Walker helped the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team amass 20 gold, 22 silver and 22 bronze medals in the first NorAm Cup event of the season.
Walker made it look easy at Copper Mountain, but looks can be deceiving.
Walker was born without most of his spine, the result of lumbar sacral agenesis, a birth defect that affects roughly one in every 25,000 children. Due to the condition, Walker had no control of his legs and doctors removed them at the knees when he was just 4.
The lumbar sacral agenesis and amputation are ancient history to the 26-year-old X Games gold medalist. He got past that long ago when he took up skiing at the age of 6 in his hometown of Franconia, N.H., also home to another U.S. skiing great and Olympic champion Bode Miller.
"I really liked the challenge and enjoyed it and kept doing it," Walker said. "I got better and better at it and that just allowed me to get more enjoyment out of it."
From there Walker eventually hooked up with the New England Disabled Ski Team. Walker kept climbing the ranks, skiing faster and faster in the process and in the spring of 2003 he made the U.S. Team.
"I had been going to North American races for years before that and that year I met the requirements and got an invitation to join the team," Walker said. "Once I got on team the team I saw the coaching was good and there were a lot of opportunities to train."
Walker immediately showed he was ready for the big stage as he recorded his first world cup win in 2004. In 2006, he captured the World Cup giant slalom overall title and, showing his versatility, he won the overall downhill crown in 2009.
The versatility, talent and drive that Walker has made him a threat to win every time he enters an event. He's had success on the World Cup stage and in the X Games but it has eluded him on what are the two biggest stages for his sport, the Paralympic Winter Games and IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships.
The 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships are set for Feb. 20-27 in La Molina, Spain, and the countdown to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games is at 15 months. The stakes are going to get bigger, the pressure higher, more is at stake.
"Tyler is one of our top all-around skiers and is physically tough, mentally tough and really prepared for this season," Jardine said. "He hasn't had his best results at the World Championships but his commitment level is unbelievable and I believe he is ready for a big season and ready to take his skiing to another level and enter the Paralympics really confidently."
It was evident already at the Copper Mountain event. Walker said it was “the biggest field I have ever seen at that race,” with at least a dozen countries represented. He likened it to a small World Cup with the draw being the amount of races, nothing else major going on in North America and it marked the first chance to start qualifying for Sochi. The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games are set for March 7-16.
For all his success, you still get the sense that Walker feels he has unfinished business in his career. He is working harder than ever to add elusive titles from the Paralympic Winter Games and World Championships to his resume.
Walker's efforts included a summer spent at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and more than 50 days on the mountain since September. The quest has also included work with manufacturers on equipment including his mono-ski, outriggers and seating system.
“It's pretty cool to be good enough to be involved in process,” Walker said. “We've pushed the boundaries of it a little bit in helping develop new technologies, new technique.”
All of which he hopes pays off on the road to Sochi. The events over the next 15 months are against familiar competitors. He's beaten them all before, now it just needs to happen when it truly counts and Walker is confident he's ready.
“Working out all summer in Colorado Springs, all the training, I just feel way more prepared and in better shape than I have ever been,” Walker said. “I've trained well and have been taking a lot of guesswork and unknowns out of it. I still have a lot to accomplish and I feel the best is yet to come.”