14 for 14: Sean Halsted, Nordic skiing

By Sean Halsted | July 14, 2013, 11 a.m. (ET)
Sean Halsted
Sean Halsted competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

From Jan. 2013 to Feb. 2014, the 14 months leading up to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, "14 for 14" will profile 14 athletes who hope to make the U.S. team for the Games. Visit USParalympics.org on the 14th of each month for the latest "14 for 14". 

My name is Sean Halsted. While serving with the U.S. Air Force in 1998, I was injured when I fell 40 feet out of a helicopter while on a fast rope during a search and rescue training exercise.

Years later, I found Nordic skiing after attending the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. Now I am pursuing a second appearance on the U.S. Paralympic Team. I competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, notching two top-10 finishes for Team USA.

Here are 14 things you should know about me as I strive towards Sochi:

1. I first got on skis when I was 4.

My family and I were alpine skiers. We only skied cross country when we could not do alpine. We were up on the mountain around 40 days a year. Even though I have skied most of my life, I did not ski competitively until after my injury.

2. I'm a military brat.

My dad was in the U.S. Air Force so we moved roughly every three years. I was born in Spokane, Wash., lived in Merced, Calif., Ramstein, Germany, and Montgomery, Ala., and then moved back to Spokane.

3. We're an Air Force family.

My three brothers joined the Air Force like my dad. My older brother just finished his 20 years of service and retired from the Air Force. My two younger brothers are still in the Air Force. One lives in South Carolina and the other in Hawaii.

4. I was an Air Force combat controller.

My job was to talk to aircraft and coordinate with them for the ground units we supported. My job was necessary because most of the ground units were working in areas that had no control tower or they were deep in enemy territory. I went through a year and a half selection process. At the end of my selection, I was free fall and static line parachute qualified and scuba qualified. I was air traffic control. I was proficient with demolitions, mountaineering and air assault.

5. I used to compete on the field.

In junior high school and into my sophomore year of high school, my focus was on soccer. We moved my junior year so I had to tryout at my new high school. I was cut, ending my competitive soccer.

6. I was injured when I was 27.

I suffered a spinal cord injury from a fall while participating in fast rope insertion from a helicopter during search and rescue exercises. I was reintroduced to sport about a year later through a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs program. It took me four years to get back on snow.

7. I was reintroduced to sport through the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is a multi-sport rehabilitation through competition event put on by the VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America. I excelled in an event called the slalom and giant slalom, which is basically an obstacle course for wheelchairs. The event gave me confidence in my wheelchair mobility skills. I felt assured that there was no environment that I could not maneuver through.

8. Sled hockey was the first winter sport I gravitated towards.

I still love to play, when 10 players of comparable ability can get together. It is a fun game to play recreationally.

9. I was "thrown into" adventure races.

In the second year after my injury, the staff at my rehab VA hospital the second year after my injury. It was really rewarding to be mixed in the population and not singled out. The events opened my eyes to possibilities I thought impossible.

10. I wanted to represent Team USA in Torino, Italy.

I went to cross country skiing nationals in 2005 with the intent of qualifying for the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games. I did not make the team to Torino but I was put on the development team. I’m now on the national team with hopes of competing at my second Paralympics next year.

11. My sit ski frame has changed three times since I started competing.

I had to start in a frame that was available and then I had to coordinate with various people to make the frame that I wanted. I started out in a frame in a sitting position, with my feet out in front, like a reclining chair. I then moved to having my feet tucked under my seat. Now I am in a rather kneeling position.

 Paddling on Twin Lakes, Idaho, with Keelie and Ethan
Paddling with Keelie and Ethan on Twin Lakes, Idaho
The Halsted Family in 2009
The Halsted Family in 2009
12. Team USA has made me more open minded.

Travelling to different race venues in different parts of the country, or different parts of the world, has been interesting. It has made me more open minded to many situations. For example, the hotel rooms in Europe are smaller, and wheelchair accessibility is not as prevalent there. In attending the various races, one learns to be open minded and flexible. I have learned to work around the different situations so that needs are met. And then we come home, and what we thought was a big deal now seems a little trivial.

13. I ride my hand cycle a lot in the many months we are without snow.

One event I ride in is from Seattle to Portland, Ore. I ride with friends from college who helped me get out of the post injury funk. It is a 200 mile, two day ride through western Washington and into northwest  Oregon. I think we mutually motivate each other.

14. I have two daughters and a son with my wife Sarah.

Our oldest children are twins. Ethan (boy) and Rileigh (girl) are 9. Keelie will be 4 years old next month. The twins remember the Vancouver Games but Keelie was too young. All the kids play a game on the Wii which is set in the Vancouver games. They try to relate the game to how it really was.