Tyler Burdick was at home in Utah last week, recovering from surgery that removed his left leg. He expects to have surgery in the next few months to remove his right leg.
But the dominant theme of his conversation with a reporter was not about the loss he has suffered but rather when he will return to the mountain and snowboard again.
Already a Paralympian who competed in Sochi, Russia, in March, Burdick is already preparing for competing at the next Winter Games in South Korea in 2018.
“I still have my sights set on Korea,” said Burdick, 33. “I know I have a long road but I think I can do it. I can recover and get strong.”
If anyone knows about recovery and getting strong, it’s Burdick.
Back in 2010, Burdick was serving as a hospital corpsman with the 3rd Battalion 6th Marine Regimen in Afghanistan when his armored vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Burdick was in the last week of his assignment when the accident occurred. He was flown to Bethesda, Maryland, for treatment and was fitted for leg braces. He was told to have his legs amputated, but Burdick said he decided against it.
During his time in rehabilitation, he saw a video of Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy. Burdick, a snowboarder prior to his military service and accident — he went to a boarding school in Austria and got to hit some of the world’s best slopes as a teen — decided then to try snowboarding again.
He learned to snowboard again and even qualified for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Now he is friends with Purdy as well as several of the top men’s snowboarders such as Evan Strong, Mike Shea and Keith Gabel.
“But I was developing so much pain,” Burdick said. “It was super frustrating. The last few years all this work was done to save my legs. Now the idea of having a prosthetic doesn’t seem very daunting anymore.”
His friends from Team USA have been his new band of brothers, and because they have all encountered various obstacles in making the Paralympic Games, they lean on each other for support. Now that Burdick has had one leg amputated and another one about to be amputated, his friends have been calling, texting and visiting.
“Our snowboarding team is super close,” Burdick said. “They have all been really supportive. It’s like a family.”
Tuesday is Veterans Day, and before Burdick enlisted with the U.S. Navy, he had never really observed the holiday much. Now, he said, the day is a somber one.
“When I joined the Navy I didn’t really have a lot of direction in my life,” Burdick said. “Serving in Afghanistan changed that for me. Veterans Day is not really a day of celebration for me; it’s more a day of remembering, a day of reflection.”
He hopes that Americans will spend some part of the holiday “honoring a veteran” in some way.
Burdick misses his friends and his time in the military but said having found a new corps of friends in snowboarding has helped.
“Absolutely,” Burdick said. “We joke about it sometimes that it’s a risky sport. They come to me and I’m the team medic all over again. It’s so similar in so many ways.”
At the moment, Burdick is recovering, and has been getting a lot of help from his mom, Susan.
“My mom has been awesome,” Burdick said. “She stayed in Bethesda for two or three months, and she’s done everything for me. She’s here now and helping with groceries and cooking meals. I’m really, really lucky to have her.”
He expects it will take him about six months to return to a “high level of activity” but said he might be able to register and start racing again in the summer. He has friends in Australia who have already invited him to come and train, and he has already looked into training in Chile.
He plans to attend some races to support his teammates and said he will do anything to help from the sidelines.
But his goal remains to be on the slopes again. With help from some of his sponsors, Semper Fi Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project, his fellow snowboarders and his family, he believes he has a good shot.
In the meantime, he is taking some classes at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. He is an international business major, and even though he had two major surgeries scheduled, he is taking four courses.
What has motivated him a lot is watching what has happened to Purdy in the past year. Once a woman who inspired him to snowboard, now he has gotten to know her personally and seen her become a superstar. Not only did she win a bronze medal in Sochi, she went on to become a TV star on “Dancing with the Stars” and is currently touring with Oprah.
“She’s really living the dream, huh?” Burdick said. “This whole community is inspiring. And if she can do it, I can do it. I think I can do this. I can recover and get strong. I really want to go to Korea and I would really like to see this sport grow.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.