Mike Minor intended to make his debut in the international media spotlight at the 2016 Winter X Games in the adaptive slopestyle snowboarding competition.
But he didn’t even make it past the second jump on the first day of practice.
Minor fell one foot short of clearing the 65-foot opening, blowing out his knee and any chance at TV time, and he couldn’t walk fully again until about a month afterward.
Nearly one year later, everybody in the action sports world is familiar with the 26-year-old, who is a heavy favorite to top the podium at the World Para Snowboard Championships, which begin this week in Big White, British Columbia.
In his world championship debut, Minor will compete in snowboardcross and banked slalom for athletes with upper-limb impairments. Despite multiple tight finishes in both events with Austria’s Patrick Mayrhofer recently — including two world cup races decided by less than one second — he heads into the event unbeaten on the slopes since the NorAm Cup last March.
“Until now, I haven’t publicly announced any of my world championship goals because a lot of my competitors are on my Facebook and things like that, so I didn’t want to come off as (arrogant) or anything,” Minor said. “But my goal is to be double world champion at Big White … and I’m going for it.”
Born without a right forearm, Minor began snowboarding and skateboarding at 7 years old, using one as a form of cross-training for the other, and vice versa.
It certainly worked, as he’s still riding on both the land and snow 20 years later.
Four years ago, the Pennsylvania native moved to Colorado, where he worked as a lift attendant at Copper Mountain until he was asked to join the Adaptive Action Sports team a year later. In no time, he vaulted through the rankings, cracking the U.S. Paralympics national team for the 2015-16 season.
Minor made his world cup debut in November 2015, winning the banked slalom in Landgraaf, Netherlands, before winning the same event in Big White the following February. He claimed his first world cup win in snowboardcross that March in Les Angles, France, and then finished second in banked slalom at the next event in Trentino, Italy.
The latter result secured the world cup crystal globe for banked slalom to cap off a surprise first go-around on the international circuit.
Undefeated so far this season, Minor sits atop the world rankings, most recently having taken two top finishes at the world cup in Lake Tahoe, California, last week.
Minor’s teammate, riding partner and best friend is Paralympic gold medalist Evan Strong, whom he looks to for advice on the mountain on a daily basis.
“I pick his brain constantly about past experiences and whatnot,” Minor said. “I ask him what to expect because he’s been through it and has seen all the hype. Having somebody explain what’s about to happen is very nice to have.”
Spectators at the world championships this week might hear Minor referred to by a variety of names, as everyone he meets seems to give him a different nickname.
Most often, he’s referred to as “Squirrel.” He was given the name by coach Pat Holland because of his very short attention span, similar to that of the squirrel character in the film, “Over the Hedge.”
Strong, meanwhile, has nicknamed him “Bowl Troll” because he loves to ride the bowls on his skateboard, as well as “Smeagol,” because he often takes on some features of the character from The Lord of the Rings series.
“I love nicknames, because if somebody gives you a nickname, that means they like you,” Minor said. “So I adopt all my nicknames.”
Minor will have added fire in his belly in Big White, where he’ll ride down the slopes in honor of Andrew Hale, a snowboarder who is still on the recovery train since breaking his skull and neck vertebrae when training for the X Games last year with Minor.
That should be enough motivation to help Minor cap off an undefeated season in the international spotlight.
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.