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How Para Skier Kyle Taulman Is Making His College More Accessible To All

By Alex Abrams | Nov. 07, 2022, 1:35 p.m. (ET)

Kyle Taulman competes during the men's sitting slalom at the 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships on Jan. 21, 2022 in Lillehammer, Norway.

 

Kyle Taulman wanted to go to a college that could provide him with a good education and was close enough to a mountain for him to continue alpine skiing.

He decided to attend the University of Colorado, which is a three-hour drive from his hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Shortly after arriving on CU’s campus, though, Taulman noticed that the school didn’t offer a lot of opportunities for disabled students like himself to be physically active.

He didn’t think it made much sense since CU is located in Boulder, which is considered one of the healthiest and most active cities in the U.S. He also saw that his able-bodied classmates could easily go hiking, biking, skiing and camping in the area.

Taulman, who was paralyzed at age 2 when a cancerous tumor wrapped around his spinal cord, reached out to CU’s recreational center about possibly offering more adaptive sports. He was glad to find individuals there were receptive to what he had in mind.

Taulman, 20, is now a sophomore and an advocate for the disabled community on campus. He’s majoring in electrical engineering and, in March, he made his Paralympic debut as an alpine skier in Beijing.

“Obviously, I really don’t remember walking. I don’t remember anything like that, so the wheelchair is all I’ve known, and I just live the best life I can,” Taulman said. “But a lot of people can end up in a really dark place. The disabled community is really the only minority group that someone could wake up tomorrow and be a part of, and a lot of people don’t think about that.

“But building that infrastructure and that knowledge of adaptive sport and allowing people the ability to participate in adaptive sport gives those people who do end up in that unfortunate situation a way to heal and a way to continue living.”

Taulman said he helped CU’s rec center get six specialized sports wheelchairs that disabled students or even those with a broken leg can use to play wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis.

A group is working on planning on-campus events and talks to introduce more students to adaptive sports. In addition, CU’s club tennis team voted unanimously to add a wheelchair tennis component to its team.

Taulman was named the club team’s first wheelchair tennis player.

“Right now, we’re just working on basically getting something going recreationally, just getting people to come and try it out and start getting people going and over time start to build that more competitive side,” he said.

Taulman learned how to become an outspoken proponent for adaptive sports from his mother, Julie, who served as the longtime executive director of Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS). 

As a result of his spinal cord injury, Taulman doesn’t have any feeling below his belly button. He said he started playing sports as a kid because of his mother’s role with STARS.

“I honestly became kind of their test dummy,” Taulman said. “Whenever they got a new piece of adaptive equipment, whether it be a mountain bike or handcycle or sit ski or wakeboard, water ski, anything like that, it was like, ‘All right, Kyle, go test it. Go try it out. Make sure it works.’”

But having that freedom to go out there ... and ski and have a good time, that’s incredible.

Kyle Taulman, Para Alpine Skiing

Taulman said he wanted to be a Paralympian from a very young age, but he initially thought he’d make the Paralympics as a swimmer, not a skier.

As a kid, he had a small U.S. Paralympics duffle bag in which he carried all of his swimming gear to practice. He also got excited every time he met a Paralympian. However, Taulman said he realized he was too slow in the pool to make it as a Para swimmer. He then got more serious about alpine skiing and started racing at around age 14.

“Being able to go out on the mountain and throw down turns better than all of my friends, that’s an awesome feeling, you know as someone with a disability who’s usually constrained to the chair,” Taulman said. “Obviously, I don’t let it hold me back.

“But having that freedom to go out there and do a lot better than everyone else, I don’t have to worry about stairs or sand or gravel or accessibility issues. Just go out and ski and have a good time, that’s incredible. Racing is just one of those things that gives me a huge rush.”

Taulman said he remembers the exact moment when he learned he had qualified for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, accomplishing his dream of becoming a Paralympian. He had his cell phone with him as he was training at Winter Park, Colorado, because he was expecting to hear that day on whether he had made Team USA.

Taulman admitted he was so nervous and kept checking his phone in between practice runs. After practice, he was sitting in his wheelchair when he received a phone call letting him know he was headed to Beijing.

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m going.’ And of course, I made all the phone calls to my parents, my grandparents, everyone being like, ‘I made it. We’re going,’” Taulman said. “It was honestly a sense of relief for me more than anything.”

Taulman competed in the slalom at the Beijing Winter Paralympics, but he didn’t finish the event. He has already turned his attention to qualifying for the Paralympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026.

In addition to skiing, Taulman is training in wheelchair tennis with the goal of someday competing at the Summer Paralympics. Of course, he wants to first graduate from CU sometime in the next couple of years.

Taulman said he’d like to make CU a school where disabled students could go to “get a great education while also pursuing their adaptive sport and hopefully go to the Paralympics or world cups.” It’s a lesson he learned from watching his mother.

“I obviously saw what she did and how many people were touched by STARS and were given opportunities to do something and get out there and be active,” Taulman said. “And I’ve seen how that can change people and change people’s perspectives on life.”

Alex Abrams

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Kyle Taulman