Noah Elliot celebrates after the men's snowboard LL1 finals at the 2022 World Para Snow Sports Championships on Jan. 14, 2022 in Lillehammer, Norway.
Para athletes are inspiring, yes, and they are brave. But they are also not too different. They have bills to pay, kids to look after and jobs to do. Sometimes, if they’re fortunate, their only job is competing for Team USA. But more often than not, that is just one of the many plates they juggle, all while trying to be the best in the world.
U.S. para snowboarder Noah Elliott is one of many athletes trying to do it all.
Growing up in Missouri, Elliott spent most of his time at the skate park, but nagging pain in his knee led his mom to take him to the doctor at 16 years old. He was then diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that starts in the bones.
While recovering in the hospital after his left leg was amputated a year later, he came across the Paralympic Games Sochi 2014 on television. Soon after, the boy who had never been on a snowboard headed to Colorado on a trip for kids with cancer. One of the first athletes he met? Fellow Team USA para snowboarder Brenna Huckabee, who just happened to be a fellow osteosarcoma survivor.
“I would not have had the opportunities that I have had on Team USA had I not gone through the things that I went through,” Elliott said. Losing his leg might seem unlucky to some, but to him, it “enabled me to figure out who I wanted to be, and who I could be with this new situation.”
It turned out that person was a professional adaptive snowboarder.
“But like everyone, we have good days and bad days. We’re all just trying to better ourselves and chase our dreams,” Elliott said.
Because of his story, “I get called inspiring a lot,” the 24-year-old shared.
“The other one I get is thank you for your service. People automatically assume if you have a prosthetic and look anywhere from 18 years old and up that you’re in the military.
“It’s always awkward because you don’t know what to say. If you say, hey, I wasn’t actually in the service, there’s a 50/50 chance that they’re going to be mad. So usually I say, okay, thank you — have a good day, and I keep moving.”
But even with all of that, the 2018 Paralympian said he’s not all that different from anyone else. “My reality is I’m a single father, and I work multiple jobs to make this work,” he said. “You know, I’m one of the best Paralympic snowboarders on the circuit, and I’m still struggling financially.