Aaron Pike competing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Aaron Pike grew up moving from town to town with his father’s military career. Pike’s family lived in four different states, and even spent time living overseas in Germany. While the location always changed, one thing remained the same: he’d get home from school, drop his backpack and immediately run outside. Pike would be competing against his friends in the neighborhood in just about anything you could imagine.
“It didn’t really matter what it was,” he said. “We’d be playing basketball or football. We were always doing something outside. We were pretty competitive.”
That competitive drive is something that never left the now 28-year-old Paralympian.
After matriculating to the University of Illinois for track and field and wheelchair basketball, Pike immediately began competing at the national and world level. He was a member of the U.S. track and field team at the London 2012 Paralympic Games — he competed in the 500-, 1,500- and 4x400-meter, as well as the marathon — and has also completed almost a dozen marathons.
After those London Games, Pike was facing some time off for the first time in his athletic career, but one random email changed his plans.
“I was going full on with track for four years before that,” he said. “I was going to have a little break, but the biathlon coach sent me a random email about a month after London and invited me out to a camp that was in Bozeman, Montana. It sounded good, so I figured I would just try it out. It was something different. I loved it. From there I went to a few more camps, and it was full on after that.”
Pike had never been on skis before that first camp. Now, less than three years later, he’s already been a member of the Nordic ski team at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games last February and is currently in Cable, Wisconsin, for the 2015 IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships, which will be held Jan. 24-Feb. 1.
“It definitely wasn’t natural at first,” said Pike, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a hunting accident when he was 13 years old. “It was definitely new. I had never used poles before, so at first they had me sitting in the sit ski, and I was in something very different than what we’re using now. It was almost recreational; a lower-class athlete would use the type I was in. I broke the frame in the first 10 minutes being in it. I had no idea what I was doing. The handling on the snow and the instability, it was all really new.”
Pike has a fine handle on the Nordic side now. In fact, much of his track and field training helps him transition from sport to sport.
He’s been on the road since around Christmas, training for the last few weeks in Utah before the team moved to Minneapolis this past weekend for a short training camp. When he’s not on the snow or in the weight room, he’s pulling out his racing chair and getting in training for his track events. He hopes to be part of the U.S. team that will take part in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio next summer.
For Pike, the schedule never simmers down. He competed in the Chicago Marathon this past October and the New York City Marathon on Nov. 2. Before that, he was in Sweden and Norway with the Nordic team, getting on snow for the first time in the season.
He says his most memorable athletic accomplishment, at least to date, was finishing a marathon in 1 hour, 22 minutes, which at the time was only about two minutes from a world record. He was competing for a sport on the London Paralympic team at the time, and it helped cement his spot; it also set a new personal best by almost 10 minutes.
After the world championships in Cable, he’ll start training on the racing chair even more often.
“I have a portable racing chair with portable wheels, so I’m always jumping in and doing optional workouts in the chair, just to be ready,” Pike said. “Physiologically, the sports are very similar, which makes it easy to train for both. It’s two compatible sports in that they’re both really based in endurance.”
Pike is also a biathlon athlete, which combines Nordic skiing with rifle shooting. It’s the most difficult thing he’s ever done athletically.
“I wanted to try it,” he said. “Once I started skiing, it was a natural progression. The shooting part is just totally different. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve done. As you approach the range, you try to bring your heart rate down so you’re not seeing double and everything has to be precise.”
Right now, biathlon is what might be driving Pike most.
“I hate that I’m not good at it,” he said. “I’m so competitive with myself that you’re always trying to get better.
“I’m doing exactly what I want to do.”
Pike’s first day of competition at the IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships will be on Saturday, Jan. 24 with the biathlon sprint competition. All of the races can be viewed via a live stream at TeamUSA.org.