David Williams signs autographs during Team USA athlete processing ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics
David Williams likes to think his age is just a number. That doesn’t decrease the self-awareness he has about his body, though.
“The mileage that my body already has on it is pretty extensive, being disabled and being old,” the Miami native, 42, said. “So it doesn’t like to recover as quickly as everybody else’s. If I get hurt doing something, it takes me a little bit longer to recover.”
Williams made his Paralympic debut in Beijing as an alpine sit skier and has taken on the younger competition such as Norway’s Jesper Pedersen and the Netherlands’ Jeroen Kampschreur.
Williams said those skiers, who won gold medals four years ago in PyeongChang, will be tough to beat since they have been racing from a young age. Williams only took up Para alpine in recent years, after being injured while serving in the military.
“Some of these kids have been racing with a condition that they were born with,” Williams said. “So they were ski racing when they were 8 years old. They’ve got the time in it, and I can’t get that back.”
Williams first tried mono-skiing in 2014, the same year he suffered a spinal cord injury while on active duty. He was watching the PyeongChang 2018 Games and he realized he wanted to compete internationally alongside the best.
“I’m sitting there, watching the races, and I’m like, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” he recalled. “Then I started thinking, ‘Man, I’m going to be 42 years old by the time the next Paralympics come around.’
“So I’m like, ‘I need to get my butt in gear. I’m getting too old for this.’ I just kind of dove in headfirst, stuck to my training. Showing up every day, putting in the work, trying to get as much mileage as I possibly can.”
The first-time Paralympian said he believes his age gives him a wiser perspective.
“I’ve got a very good, dedicated mindset to the sport, with a very good, mature outlook on realistic possibilities,” he said.
Prior to the Games he ranked 19th in the world in super-G sitting, 24th in giant slalom, and 50th in slalom. He’s had to overcome more than just a late start to entering the sport to make it this far.
Williams crashed during a run three years ago in Winter Park, Colorado, and his outrigger punched a two-inch hole in his chest, he said. Sit skiers use outriggers to control their balance, turns and speed, much like poles for standing skiers. Williams said this crash left a tear that looked like a “bullet wound” in his muscle.
“After that wreck, it kind of brought things to my attention that this isn’t a sport where you’re not going to get hurt,” he said. “It’s inevitable that you will get hurt. It’s just a matter of when and where.”
Not only did this crash open his eyes about the realities of skiing, it served as an opportunity to focus on the mental aspect of the sport. Williams said he since started working on his mental strength with a sports psychologist. He learned how to optimize his performances, and it has helped him become a better skier.
“I feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I feel a lot more confident, and for me to be able to feel confident with my ability is the biggest issue right now.”
That crash was not the only injury the military veteran has sustained while skiing.
Earlier this season, he got a concussion at a competition in Norway and missed almost all of the races there. He did go on to compete at a world cup in Sweden soon thereafter, though he was not 100 percent recovered.
Williams said he will spend time reflecting on his physical and mental growth after the Games. It is possible he will chase another Games, but he has not made a decision yet.
For now, the focus is all about Beijing.