Paralympic Alpine Skier Tyler Walker Has Worked Hard To Put Brutal Crash In Sochi Behind Him

By Stuart Lieberman | Feb. 08, 2018, 1:05 p.m. (ET)



With just under a month until the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, social media is abuzz with athletes sharing their qualification smiles and latest triumph tales on the snow and ice.

But what you see is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the spotlight that shines every four years, when athlete posts get shared and liked ten-fold.

What they share between the Games goes much deeper.

“It’s not all amazing success all the time. You have to fall down and hurt a lot to find out what doesn’t work and how to fix it,” said Tyler Walker, who’s gearing up for his fourth Paralympic Winter Games in alpine skiing. “In a lot of sports, there’s way more failure than there is success. The success definitely stands out, and that’s the most popular thing that people see. But in order to get there, you have to fail a lot.”

The 31-year-old sit skier from New Hampshire speaks from experience. He’s had arguably more ups and downs than any other member of the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Ski Team since capturing his first giant slalom overall world cup title as a 19-year-old.

Born with his spine missing after the first vertebra, Walker had both legs amputated at the knee at age 4. He grew up skiing in local adaptive programs, joining the New England Disabled Ski Team, and by the time he was a teenager became a consistent force on the international stage.

While he has yet to win a Paralympic or world championship medal, Walker has countless world cup victories and podium finishes to his name, in addition to X Games titles.

Walker made the headlines at the last Paralympics in Sochi, but not as he intended to. His Games ended abruptly after he crashed during the downhill competition, tumbling several times and laying motionless before medical staff rushed to his side and took him to a hospital.

He posted on his Facebook page: “I’m OK! I don’t remember crashing but I didn’t break anything. Thanks so much for all the support, it means everything. I totally got a ride in a Russian helicopter, though!”

But when asked to reflect back on it now, Walker’s been more reserved. Quiet and analytical.

“I’ve been trying to get around that traumatic experience and get past it,” he said. “I’ve been working to try to be comfortable at a high speed again, which turned out to be extremely difficult to do, just to get my mind to be ok with my body going that speed again.”

Pause. He gathered his next set of words, carefully. Quiet and analytical, once again.

“In this sport, you have to plan for the long-term,” he continued. “After Sochi, I immediately started on how I could be really good not the next season, but several seasons from then. The success I’ve had so far this season, I started working on that years ago. It wasn’t going to happen in one year. It was going to take a while.”

As the next Paralympic cycle began, Walker had his highs and lows, just like any other athlete.

But when the 2016-17 season concluded, something wasn’t right when he began scrolling back through his social media posts from the winter. 

“There’s a lot of pressure to just post positive things, because that’s what people like. That’s what they click on,” he said. “At the end of the season, I was just thinking about everything that happened, and realized that while there were little bits of success, there was quite a bit that went wrong and did not work. I didn’t express that throughout the season. If something wasn’t going right or I wasn’t doing well, I didn’t tell anyone about it.”

So, Walker took to his personal blog, crafting a post entitled “Being Honest.”

He shared everything that went wrong. The excruciating pain from working out too much. Nearly throwing up from cardio sessions that never seemed to end. The days he was unmotivated, laying in bed, earnestly formulating excuses as to why he couldn’t complete his workouts.

Quiet and analytical. This time through the written word.

It was just one season in a decade-long career.

“It’s never a situation where you have it, and then it’s going to magically work until the end of time from then on,” Walker said. “You always have to go back and reassess and adapt to new changing environments constantly. It’s a process you have to go through every year.”

Walker continued with his ways, always observing more than talking, to start his 2017-18 season. Despite not having a whole lot of training in the offseason, Walker recalibrated himself mentally and has flown down the slopes this year, wearing three world cup silver medals in the giant slalom already.

He’s aiming to compete in all five disciplines in PyeongChang: downhill, super-G, super combined, slalom and giant slalom.

And he’s in the right state of mind at exactly the right time.

Will it be his final Paralympics?

He pauses.

Quiet and analytical, Walker answers: “I’m going to have to wait to see what happens and reassess.”

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.