14 for 14: Jeremy Wagner, Nordic skiing

By Jeremy Wagner | Sept. 14, 2013, 9 a.m. (ET)
Jeremy Wagner
Jeremy Wagner, seen competing at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wis., hopes to make the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team in biathlon and cross-country skiing. 

From Jan. 2013 to Feb. 2014, the 14 months leading up to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, "14 for 14" will profile 14 athletes who hope to make the U.S. team for the Games. Visit USParalympics.org on the 14th of each month for the latest "14 for 14". 

My name is Jeremy Wagner. In 2007, after spending a year serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserves, I returned home to Hawaii, and was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. While competing in the 2010 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Denver, I was recruited for the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Team.

In June 2012, I made the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team for the first time. I made my world team debut at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Championships and now my eyes are set on the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

Here are 14 things you should know about me as I strive towards Sochi:

Aloha!

I speak a little bit of Hawaiian. Having moved to Colorado from Hawaii, I do not have much of a chance to practice speaking anymore so my progress is a little slow.

The best part about my hometown is the beach.

In my hometown of Nanakuli, Hawaii, there is only one hotspot – the beach. It is beautiful. My hometown is on the Island of Oʻahu near the southern end of the Waiʻanae Mountains.

I travel everywhere with my ukulele.

I’ve been playing the ukulele for about two years now. Mostly, I play traditional Hawaiian songs, but sometimes I just jam out to my own tune, playing whatever I feel like. When I was in the military, I played the guitar.  

I joined the U.S. Army Reserves in 2000.

I was deployed to Iraq from 2004-05. In 2007, after being stationed in Iraq for a year, I was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. The crash injured my spinal cord and I no longer have use of my legs. I was treated at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Center in California, where a physical therapist introduced me to the VA’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games. 

My cousins have helped me get where I am.

The most supportive person in my life has been my cousin Caleb, may he rest in peace. Without his help getting me involved within the VA healthcare system, I don’t know where I would be. My cousin Karen and her husband Greg have also played a huge role in my success because of their initial offer in 2010. When I became interested in biathlon, she offered to help me move from Hawaii to Colorado, where she lives, so I could pursue the sport. Who knows what would have happened without my family?

Thank you, Sean Halsted.

All of my teammates on the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team are awesome. But Sean Halsted, who has a similar injury to mine, has been extremely helpful as I try to learn this sport. He has competed at multiple Paralympic Winter Games. Although we compete against each other, he uses his experiences to help me achieve my own goals.

I want to swim in the Black Sea.

If I compete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, I want to celebrate with a dip in the Black Sea. I know it will be cold but I’ve swam outside in the Alaskan winter so I know I’ll survive.

How good can I be?

The 2014 Games would be my first but I hope they’re not my last. I've only been doing this for a few years now. Many of my teammates have shown me that once you go to your first Paralympics, you can really excel. I think I want to keep going after this, see how good I can become.

Making stuff with my hands is awesome.

Before I was injured, I was a welder and it is something that I really loved. Trades like stone, wood, metal, glass, it doesn't matter, I love to make things.

I can be a student or a teacher.

If I was not training for the Paralympic Winter Games, I could see myself being a shop teacher, because I would love to pass on my passion for metal work to others. I like to teach but I also like to learn. Math and science are really interesting to me. Chemistry. DNA. Space.  How could you not want to know more?

I love mechanics.

I’m not much of a car person but I am interested in how cars work. Earlier this year, I changed the front bearings on my own vehicle just to say that I did it.

I like to cook.

I hate when you have to eat the same thing for a week because you made so much. So instead, I try to make simple meals that are perfect for one or two people. I made chicken wraps with bruschetta not too long ago that were really good. I prefer homemade meals because it is cheaper and usually tastes better.

I cheer for the Rainbow Wahine.

Hawaii does not have any professional sports teams so I cheer for the University of Hawaii. My favorite teams to support are the football team and the women’s volleyball team.

My life is just a life.

I was raised by a single mother with five brothers and sisters. My childhood was never easy but neither was my adult life. After serving in Iraq, I was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. When you hear my story, you might say I have overcome a lot but really, my life is just my life. It is who I am. Everyone has their own situation. I don’t consider myself as someone who is out there overcoming big obstacles. I just consider myself living.

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