Tyler McKenzie skies down the mountain. Photo courtesy of the Hanger Clinic.
The past few months have been a juggling act for Tyler McKenzie.
He has, in part, been juggling coaching responsibilities, while his own skiing career has been accelerating.
“The kids have been engaged, curious and excited,” McKenzie said. “It’s really been a strong familial group that’s kind of kept me moving and inspired, and it’s given me the opportunity to push myself.”
From March 27 to 31 in Winter Park, Colorado, the coach-athlete competed alongside national team athletes in the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Championships and NORAM Cup, and he did not disappoint. He grabbed a gold in the NORAM giant slalom standing, and he finished fourth in the same discipline at Nationals. He also placed second in the NORAM super-G and third in slalom.
This was the first time he competed since early February in Park City, Utah.
“It was really exciting to come through the week, build, build, build, and then end the season on probably my best slalom run in the year, both in training and in racing.”
McKenzie is fairly new to the Para alpine skiing circuit. In 2017 he endured a spinal cord injury that affected the majority of his left upper torso. The Brachial Plexus nerve roots were ripped off of his spinal cord, rendering his left shoulder complex, arm and hand paralyzed.
“(Coaching) was actually a huge benefit in terms of my sinking back into really strong fundamentals and working on the same things that the kids are working on day to day,” he said.
As much as coaching helped, McKenzie said he is trying to figure out how to allocate more time toward improving his skiing career before the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
The race in Winter Park was the last of the skiing season, and McKenzie might not see another race for a few months.
“I think that’s one thing I need to navigate: How do I do this, and have this be the utter main focus?” he said. “That puts me right in there, if not on top of some of those guys.”
The U.S. skier currently ranks among the top standing skiers on the international level. He currently ranks 36th, not far from two-Paralympian Tyler Carter, in the men’s super-G World Para Alpine Skiing Rankings.
McKenzie said it has been a challenge coaching and competing at the same time.
He said he appreciates the flexibility his National Ability Center and National Sports Center for the Disabled coaches have given him.
“I don’t know if I would have ended up with those final results on the season without them and their gentle push forward. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, 80-foot cliff. Figure it out.’”
He said he is channeling the same energy his kids have at the gate.
“(I’m) watching these little ones push out of the start with the same sort of energy that I’m trying to harness, as well,” he said. “From a different angle, it kind of gives you that notion (of), ‘There aren’t really any excuses.’”
McKenzie said the kids have pushed him through any challenges, and they have served as great motivation.
“They have been as much of a part of this as the parents, coaching staff, and directors’ staff,” he said. They are “pretty solid role models for me during this time period.”
McKenzie will spend time with anaerobic and explosive endurance-based exercise routines over the next training period. The exercises are designed to test how much his body can do in a minute and a half. He also wants to improve his core and back, and the control of his upper left side.
McKenzie undergoes occupational and physical therapies to work the left side of his body. He has chronic regional pain syndrome, and his body can hurt if he pushes too hard in training. He does a pool workout for physical therapy that prevents his body from “freaking out.”
“Now it’s a nice long block of eating good food, hanging out with good people, and getting the fitness where it needs to be to push and find that next gear.”
The kids and his NAC team will definitely be on his mind as he reaches for his next goals.
“That camaraderie and team atmosphere has been one of the nicest things to get back in my world. We are all keeping each honest, and looking toward end results in this sort of long-play sport that we have.”