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U.S. Paralympics

U.S. Paralympics
Andy Soule
U.S. Army veteran Andy Soule competes at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in cross-country skiing. 

My path to Sochi

BY ANDY SOULE

Andy Soule
Andy Soule is competing in three biathlon events and three cross-country skiing races at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

I've always been driven to be the best at whatever I did. Growing up I ran cross country and did the 400 and 800 on the track team, making varsity on both teams by my senior year. I was never at a level where I would have expected to go on to become a professional or world-class athlete though. My big-time success in sports started with Nordic skiing.

Of course, unique circumstances brought me to Nordic skiing. After all, we don’t have a lot of snow where I come from in Texas. I was planning to join the military after finishing college at Texas A&M, but shortly after the 9/11 attacks I decided to leave school and enlist early.

I deployed to Afghanistan just once, in 2005, and was injured two months later. I was a gunner in a Humvee. We were on a fairly routine patrol. However, we ran over an IED that was buried in the road. It went off under the back tire, pretty close to where I was standing, throwing me off the vehicle.

I remember the whole thing, from the medevac to the hospital to when they put me under for surgery. Ever since I have been a double leg amputee.

Losing your legs isn't easy, but I think I started accepting it almost immediately. I started approaching it with a determination to just go on with my life: I’m not dead, I’m still alive and still have a life to live, and I guess I was kind of determined to keep living it.

I decided to come back and rise.

The Army was really good about working with local adaptive sports organizations in San Antonio, and I started trying things out as soon as I could. I tried hand-cycling, but things really began to change for me when I attended a cross-country skiing recruitment camp in 2005 in Idaho.

Skiing really had a lot of appeal to me because of the feeling of freedom that goes along with being able to cross-country ski, and heading out into the woods for dozens of kilometers without having to worry about wheelchairs or assistance devices and things like that. I can go out and do it myself without having to have someone help me at all.

I started as a cross-country skier, though I competed in biathlon pretty early as well. Back then I just borrowed biathlon equipment and did the races for experience. I still compete in both sports, but right now I am better in biathlon than I am in cross-country. I enjoy racing in general, but the added additional element of biathlon, to me, makes it more interesting in a way. In Sochi, I entered in six events, three for biathlon, although the event in which I won a bronze medal in Sochi, the 2.4-km pursuit, is no longer part of the Paralympic program.

Although I've never been a competitive shooter, I learned to shoot when I was young and also shot while I was in the Army. I’d say I’m usually one of the better shooters in the field in most biathlon events.

I train for these sports year round, and living in San Antonio for much of the year means I often train on my own. Starting in November, we have a good week and a half training camp every month through January and a full competition schedule, so I travel quite a bit during the winter to train and compete. The rest of the time I am at home, which means dry-land training on wheels.

A typical training week is about six days on and one day off with two sessions most days. Three of those sessions are in the weight room, and the rest are out skiing, while three or four of the ski sessions include shooting. During a typical week I am skiing probably 12-15 hours, which doesn't include time in the weight room or doing other cross training, such as swimming or, one of my favorites, kayaking.

Also, on days when I don't physically shoot, I do dry fire drills every day, so just practicing handling the rifle, practicing the movement of shooting, without actually firing.

As I mentioned in my other blog, I feel like I am coming into the Winter Games in the best shape of my life. I can’t believe in a few days, it will be over.

Competing in both biathlon and cross-country skiing can be a challenge. The schedules at competitions are often tight — including the schedule in Sochi — so we put a lot of emphasis on recovery. The U.S. athletes get good support from our team as far as help with nutrition and massage therapy and stuff like that. Besides that, it’s just a matter of after your race getting a good meal and lots of rest and stretching and preparing for the next day’s race.

Coming from the Army has also played a role in my success thus far. In the Army you develop mental toughness and determination, plus a strong work ethic, all of which transfers over to whatever you do.

Once you get on the snow, however, it’s all about just getting out there and competing to the best of your ability. Over time I developed an approach of trying not to worry about things that are out of my control and to just focus on what I can do to make my days of competition the best I can possibly be.