Spencer Wood competes at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 17, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
For a young man living in the shadow of the Green Mountains’ Killington Peak, Spencer Wood’s life has naturally revolved around the sport of skiing. A native of the small Vermont town of Pittsfield, youth meant less about video games and much more about ski slopes.
“My childhood was focused around the outdoors,” he said. “There was lots of hiking in the summer, but skiing was the main activity to do.”
Wood’s DNA is saturated with ski genes. His parents, Barb and Randy, met as ski instructors. They were still plying that trade at Killington Resort when young Spencer came into being. By the age of 2, he was joining them on the slopes.
“I’ve been skiing for 21 years,” said Wood, who turns 23 on Jan. 17.
A stroke that Wood suffered while still in the womb but not diagnosed until he was 18 months old would not keep him from strapping on the skis. While the resulting hemiplegia — defined as a condition that results in a varying degree of weakness, stiffness and a lack of control — on the right side of his body hampered him on the ballfield, that wasn’t the case on the slopes.
“From a very young age, skiing has been very therapeutic to me,” said Wood, who was told of his condition at the age of 10. “When playing soccer or baseball, it was super obvious that something wasn’t right. With skiing, that wasn’t always an issue.”
As a toddler, Wood was fitted with a brace called a “dapple” that reached from the middle of his foot to halfway up his calf to relieve growing pains and keep his leg forming properly. At first glance, his parents thought the brace looked very familiar.
“They said, ‘That’s a ski boot,’” he said.
By the age of 5, wearing actual ski boots, Woods was beginning to race. Within a few years, he was competing in U.S. Ski & Snowboard races.
“Being able to keep up with my friends and parents down the hill was always something that made me want to go a little faster,” he said.
Wood’s Paralympic journey began at the age of 14, when he was on a study abroad semester in Austria.
That winter, he was exposed to the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 that were taking place in Russia.
While Wood was away, his mother — who had been speaking with Vermont Adaptive Executive Director Erin Fernandez — told him that he was going to be on his way to the Hartford Sports Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado, upon his return. The Hartford Ski Spectacular is a weeklong Para sports event that attracts hundreds to the idyllic Rocky Mountain ski venue.
“She said, ‘We’re signing you up for this event,’” he said. “While I didn’t feel that disabled, when I went that December, I found that I fit in quite well. I found a good group and a decent calling for the whole sport.”
A month after the Sports Spectacular, Wood returned to Colorado to compete. He took fifth in his inaugural Para alpine race, a giant slalom event at Winter Park, in January 2015.
Within three years, Wood was on his way to PyeongChang, South Korea, as a member of Team USA to compete in the Paralympic Winter Games. He finished 25th in giant slalom, LW6/8-2 classification.
“Every year, it progressed better and better, and I received more support and help by those around me,” he said.
Nestled in between a blossoming international ski career, Wood graduated high school and enrolled in college. His school of choice fit like a ski glove: the University of Colorado in the mountain city of Boulder.
Now in his third year in Boulder, Wood admits it is a taxing process to juggle academics and skiing. It requires determination to stay ahead of the collegiate game while maintaining his commitments to Team USA.
“I want an education. It is important to me,” he said. “I have found that the more upfront I am with my professors, the more they are willing to work with me. They totally understand my responsibilities to the national team.”
While his schoolwork continues to progress, Wood’s results continue to impress. He claimed the first two wins of his career, taking first place in back-to-back giant slalom events on Jan. 1 and 2 at Winter Park. He is now in Veysonnaz, Switzerland, competing on the first stop of the 2020 World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup. He will race through Jan. 12 and be back on his way to Boulder the next day.
Fresh off his first two trips to the top of the podium, Wood’s goals remain level-headed as the competition ratchets up in the Alps.
“The scoreboard and time means a lot, but it is important to me to just get in a clean run that I can feel positive about,” he said. “It’s a long season.”