Andrew Haraghey smiles for the camera on skis at the Beijing Paralympics. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
After the World Para Snow Sports Championships in Lillehammer, Norway, this past January, Andrew Haraghey wasn’t particularly satisfied. It had been a difficult past couple of years between the pandemic and a broken ankle that put him out of action for over six months in 2021.
To top it off, he finished 15th in downhill and 24th in super-G in Lillehammer. It didn’t measure up to the expectations the 26-year-old from Enfield, Connecticut, had for himself.
“I was still on my way back and trying to find out where I was at,” said Haraghey, who was diagnosed with viral encephalitis at age six months, which eventually resulted in cerebral palsy. “I didn’t have a great experience (in Norway) with the tough conditions and where I was at in my progression coming back from injury. It just did not line up to where I wanted it to be.”
The standing skier got a chance to improve his confidence by competing at the Huntsman Cup in Park City, Utah, in early February. It allowed him to reset himself mentally, and it would be the final tune-up before the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“That went a lot better and went with the confidence and just finding the joy again,” Haraghey said. “Having that in between was really key, I feel, in what success I did have in Beijing.”
Haraghey began skiing at age 7 after his mother, Sheryl, encouraged him to give the sport a try. Since his muscles were not fully developed due to the cerebral palsy, Sheryl would carry him down the hill.
“It took a lot of dedication and hard work on her part,” Haraghey said. “She took her ski pole and I had one end of it, she held the other. Basically, she’s carrying an extra 50 pounds down the hill every day just to get me down.”
Haraghey first took up ski racing as a teenager. He trained at a learning program in Breckenridge, Colorado, and it was then that he began having aspirations of competing at a high level.
In 2014, Haraghey moved to Salt Lake City to attend Westminster College and train with the National Ability Center. The NAC has played a major role in developing his technique on a hill that was used for competition at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. He has high praise for his coach, Erik Leirfallom, and the staff for giving him the high intensity training he needed.
“They are super helpful in trying to get us both on and off the hill where we need to be in order to be competitive,” Haraghey said. “(Erik) knows how to tailor instruction to the individual. He’s got that kind of skill to be able to look at what you’re doing and where your progression’s going and give you that one key piece of 20 to 30 percent improvement.”
Haraghey missed the cut for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi but made the U.S. team that competed in PyeongChang in 2018. He finished 18th in downhill and 24th in super-G.
“Some of the skiers were really out of my depth at that time, so just to be able to be competitive was a win for me,” Haraghey said.
One important lesson Haraghey learned in PyeongChang was to enjoy the experience. He became so worked up that he missed the Opening Ceremony after making himself sick from nerves. He vowed to relax more in Beijing. That approach earned him a 15th-place finish in downhill, 17th in super-G and 28th in giant slalom.
“The speed events I was pretty satisfied with,” Haraghey said. “There’s always those couple mistakes you wish you could fix and then you’d be a little bit better. As we got more into the (technical events), I ended up having fatigue issues in the super combined event that sent me out of it pretty early. Luckily, we got a few extra days because they moved stuff around for weather before the tech events.”
In 2016, Haraghey began using outriggers, which gave him more stability. Similar to forearm crutches with skis on the bottom, the tips are tied together with bungee cord to keep them more parallel.
“It’s given me the confidence to be able to execute what I need to do, because I know if I make a mistake or my legs don’t quite cooperate, I can compensate more with my upper body,” he said.
Haraghey isn’t one to be flashy, preferring to keep a low profile on social media and work hard in silence. Now that Beijing is behind him, he wants to take some time to ponder what’s next.
“With skiing and everything else (being) a commitment every four years, it’s a big decision, so I don’t want to rush into it quite yet,” Haraghey said. “I’m trying to figure out what I want in the next stage and taking a little break from training to see if I really miss it and if I want to keep going or if I’m ready to move on to the next stage.”