Spencer Wood poses for a photo during Jan. 2019 in Winter Park, Colo. Photo courtesy of U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing.
KILLINGTON, Vt. — When Team USA caught up with Spencer Wood back in March 2018, he was about to compete in his first Paralympic Games.
Back then, he was 21 years old, a sophomore at the University of Colorado-Boulder, a guy with a big smile who was eager to prove himself on the world stage. But he had only begun competing as a Paralympic alpine skier three years earlier and the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 did not go as he hoped.
He was undeterred by the experience. And since then, much has changed for Wood. He is now a college graduate, and his confidence has soared. With another season of World Para Alpine Skiing World Cups on his calendar, plus the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, Wood has become a podium contender.
So what led to his athletic transformation?
First, some background. Wood grew up in Pittsfield, Vermont. His parents were ski instructors at nearby Killington Resort and their two kids were on skis around the time they could walk. [A notable fact: Wood is a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin. Like Franklin, Wood is left-handed, and the two share the same birthday — Jan. 17.]
Wood was soon racing through gates. But his parents had yet to tell their son that he was disabled. Wood had a left-brain stroke in utero, which left him with right-side hemiparesis (permanent weakness and muscle deficits on his right side). His parents wanted him to adapt to his physical impairment on his own without using it as an excuse. They finally told him when he was 10 and wanted to try out for the baseball team. His right-side weakness would be more evident on the baseball field.
But on skis, Wood felt like any other kid on the mountain.
“Skiing was something that came so naturally to me being a Vermonter and growing up in a ski town,” he said four years ago. “It seemed totally normal just to go out and rip with your friends and see who could be the fastest one down the hill.”
When he was a high school junior at the Killington Mountain School, Wood’s ski-racing coaches suggested that he try Para skiing. He was classified as LW4, the same classification for standing skiers with a below-the-knee amputation, and he finished fifth in his first Para alpine race.
That was January 2015, and Wood has never looked back. While he was in college at Boulder, he trained at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado.