Twenty-one-year-old U.S. Paralympian Jake Adicoff didn’t have the cross-country skiing season he wanted this year at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he’s double majoring in math and computer science.
So when he flew to PyeongChang, South Korea, during his spring break in March to compete at the Paralympic test event and Para-Nordic skiing world cup, his expectations weren’t very high; he had even eased up on the pressure he would have previously put on himself.
That worked like a charm.
Adicoff won world cup gold medals in the cross-country sprint and cross-country long-distance races for visually impaired athletes with new guide Sawyer Kesselheim, in addition to a bronze in the cross-country middle-distance race.
It was the first time ever he won an international medal in the sport.
“When I got there, I wasn’t really expecting the results that I ended up getting, so it feels pretty good,” Adicoff said. “I’ve gotten a lot stronger. My racing is smarter now than it was in Sochi four years ago, which is really important. I’ve put in a lot more training hours, and a lot more meaningful training.”
The following week, Adicoff picked up a short-distance gold and middle-distance silver medal at the IPC World Cup Finals in Sapporo, Japan, which by then was just icing on the cake.
The avid hiker and thrift-store shopper has rapidly gone from a skier who’s just happy to be there to one who has a real shot at the Paralympic podium in 2018.
“The season’s just wrapped up, so now I’m giving myself a little bit of time to not think about PyeongChang right now, but I do know I’ll definitely go in wanting to get medals,” he said.
Adicoff, who is legally blind after incurring chicken pox in utero, grew up taking part in both alpine and Nordic skiing.
“When my parents moved my family to Sun Valley, Idaho when I was 5, it wasn’t a question of what sport I wanted to play, it was more a question of what skiing I wanted to do,” he said. “And for me that turned out to be a great thing.”
Adicoff spent seven years competing in alpine skiing before transitioning full-time to cross-country skiing in 2005, when the majority of his friends were racing on the trails rather than the slopes.
He spent most of his competitive career racing against able-bodied athletes — taking part in two junior national championships in 2011 and ’13 — before making the 2013-14 U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team.
He deferred his acceptance to Bowdoin College for one year so he could focus on the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, where he competed in five events, finishing as high as sixth in the cross-country 20-kilometer race and 4x2.5K mixed relay on the same team as now-17-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden.
Adicoff doesn’t get a lot of time off from school to take part in the world cup events, so he often competes without a guide against able-bodied collegiate athletes.
The toughest part about that for him is that most courses are in intermittently forested areas, taking skiers through quick light transitions, which can be tough for his eyes to adjust to.
“That can slow me down a little bit, especially on downhills, but it’s not too big of a deal,” he said.
Adicoff will soon head back to Sun Valley to train over the summer for potentially the biggest season of his sports and academic careers thus far — one that could end with a Paralympic medal, a job offer in the software development industry, or even both.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.