Top 13 of 2013: U.S. Paralympics names first national team for snowboarding

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Dec. 20, 2013, 10 a.m. (ET)
Mike Shea, Keith Gabel, Evan Strong and Amy Purdy at the Paralympic test event in March 2013 in Sochi, Russia
Mike Shea, Keith Gabel, Evan Strong and Amy Purdy are among the members of the 2014 U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding Team.

It was a thrilling year for the Paralympic Movement in the United States and around the globe. Records were broken and legacies were made. From Dec. 18-30, will unveil the Top 13 moments of 2013 for U.S. Paralympics in chronological order.

Welcome to Team USA, snowboarders.

On May 7, the United States Olympic Committee announce U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Champions Evan Strong and Heidi Jo Duce and nine other athletes were nominated for the 2013-14 U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team, which is the first-ever national team in the sport.

“There are no words to describe what it feels like to be nominated for the first-ever U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team,” said Duce, who won two bronze medals on the 2012-13 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup circuit before taking the inaugural national crown. “I am stoked to be a part of history with so many great athletes. While we will always be known as trailblazers, I hope that we are remembered not just for being a part of the national team but for inspiring other amputees to get involved in snowboarding.”

Joining Strong and Duce are nominees Christina Albert, Tyler Burdick, Keith Gabel, Lucas Gross, Amy Purdy, Nicole Roundy and Mike Shea, all who have lower limb impairments, and Joseph Chandler and Marc Dervaes, who have upper limb impairments.

In May 2012, the International Paralympic Committee announced that snowboard cross for athletes with lower limb impairments will be included in the alpine skiing program at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, March 7-16, in Russia. With the announcement, U.S. Paralympics began to develop a national team program for the sport.

Athletes had previously competed for the United States internationally but there was no National Governing Body for the sport. The national team, led by coach Miah Wheeler, marks a milestone for para-snowboard in the United States.

Team USA will send five men and five women with lower limb impairments to compete in standing snowboard cross in Sochi. Both races are set for March 14 while the Games stretch March 7-16.

“As we look toward the start of the Paralympic Winter Games in 10 months, the nomination of these athletes to the inaugural U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team marks a significant step for the program and the sport,” USOC High Performance Director for Paralympic Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding Kevin Jardine said in May. “A year ago, there was very little opportunity for Paralympic snowboarders, and now there is chance for a Paralympic gold medal. Our national team athletes are among the world’s best and are up to the challenge of medaling in Sochi.”

The nomination to the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Snowboarding Team will take place no later than Feb. 4.

“It would be a dream to compete in Sochi for my country,” Gabel said.

Snowboarders have already started their 2013-14 season. At the first International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup of the season in Landgraaf, Netherlands, on Nov. 22, Shea defeated Gabel by about four seconds to take the gold medal. Burdick finished seventh.

The silver medal gave Gabel enough points to bump him to the top spot in the world rankings with Strong and New Zealand’s Carl Murphy, neither of who competed in the Netherlands event. He was No. 3 heading into the competition.

“I am beyond happy with the win and I am very pleased with how Team USA performed at the season opener,” Shea said. “It builds momentum going into the rest of the season. There was a lot of new talent from different counties – people have been training hard.”

Purdy finished second in the women’s competition with Roundy taking fourth.

Nominees to the U.S. Paralympic Team are determined on a point system with athletes who medal at any world cup all but securing their spots with the podium performance.

“I wanted to get into a high-pressure situation early on in the season so I could prepare for the upcoming world cups in North America in January and also so that I could see what else I need to train on before the Paralympic Winter Games,” Purdy said. “I am very happy with my results.”

Copper Mountain, Colo., hosts a world cup Jan. 17-19 while Big White Resort in Kelowna, B.C., hosts Jan. 25-26.