Kyle Taulman competes at the 2022 World Para Snow Sports Championships in Lillehammer, Norway. (Photo: Alex Livesey)
It would be easy for alpine skier Kyle Taulman to lament his first experience at the Paralympic Winter Games.
The shocks for his sit ski broke. He wrecked his training ski during a practice run and hurt himself in the process. He had a mishap with his clock on the morning of his competition and arrived at the race out of sorts, missing the initial prompt to ski out of the gate. And after overcoming all that, he didn’t make it through the course on his slalom run.
But Taulman, 20, who says he cried after that “heartbreaking” incomplete run, sounds more motivated by his experience in Beijing than defeated.
“It was not, of course, how I wanted it to go, or how anyone would want it to go,” Taulman said. “There were a lot of issues, but there were also a lot of amazing moments.”
Taulman, who has paraplegia, rides on a single ski while seated in a bucket. The shock on Taulman’s ski, he said, acts as his knee would. It helps with compression through turns. He realized one was blown following his first day of training. No problem, he thought, he’d brought a spare. It turned out to be blown as well. He missed the second day of training, then the third. The U.S. team didn’t have a technician who could fix it. Taulman’s shocks were manufactured by a Japanese company, so he approached the Japanese ski team for help.
“If anything, I figured one of their athletes might have a spare shock that they would be nice enough to lend to me,” Taulman said.
He spoke a little Japanese, and they spoke a little bit of English; he had to hope it was enough.
“I figured I might as well talk to them and see,” Taulman said. “That’s honestly one of my favorite things about the Paralympics in general. Everyone is really willing to help each other. I’ve been so many different places and had so many different people help me.”
The team turned out to have a technician from the company that manufactured Taulman’s shocks. At no cost, the technician “Frankensteined” Taulman’s two shocks into one functioning shock.
“I seriously cannot thank the Japanese team enough,” Taulman said. “And that camaraderie between nations, because they really saved my Games.”
Taulman resumed training. Then the morning of his race, he woke up to find that his clock had the time an hour ahead. He thought he’d missed his opportunity to race at the Paralympics altogether. He called his coach in a panic, figured out the error with his phone and tried to destress.
Then, while he worked out on the training hill next to the ski racing course, he caught an edge and flew into the fencing separating the two courses. He had the wind knocked out of him and his right arm hurt. But worst of all, he’d destroyed his training ski. His race ski was already at the top of the mountain, and someone had to bring it down to him so he could get off the training hill.
When he finally made it back to the starting gate for his first slalom run, the person who was telling athletes to exit the gate spoke very quietly — so quietly that Taulman missed his cue to ski. His coaches had to get him out in a hurry just before he would have been disqualified.
“Wrecked my focus,” Taulman said. But he had to ski.
“At that point, I just tried to ski how I know how to ski,” he said, “just basically turn off my mind and just ski, because my mind hadn’t been doing so well that day.”
He skied through the first set of combinations, but on the second combination of the second set, he put too much pressure on his ski and went the wrong way through the delay.
“And that was the end of my race day,” he said.
Taulman blames his own mental game for his mistake in his race. But he has no regrets.
“There were a lot of issues, but there were also a lot of amazing moments,” he said, citing the opening and closing ceremonies and his experience in the Paralympic Village with other athletes as standouts. He can’t wait to go back in 2026.
“As far as I’m concerned, I have my worst experience out of the way,” Taulman said.
For the rest of 2022, Taulman said, he wants to finish his college degree at the University of Colorado, where he is a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering. He plans to continue skiing and training during his final two years in Boulder and then resume training full time for the final two years leading up to the Games, with all the travel and the many competitions, including world cups, that will require.
Taulman also plays tennis competitively, which he credits with improving his upper-body mobility in skiing, and he hopes to institute a Para sports program at CU before he graduates. He will play tennis and coach the sport to kids this summer.
Then it’s full steam ahead to Italy.