Ty Wiberg competes in a Paralympic Nordic Skiing event.
Ty Wiberg traveled to Middleton, Wisconsin, in 2017 to compete in a wheelchair track and field competition. While there, however, a booth for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing caught his eye, so the curious teenager decided to see what it was all about.
BethAnn Chamberlain, the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing development coach, was standing in the booth to give Wiberg, then 15, more information about the sport.
“I saw her at the booth, and I was like this is a sport that looks really cool because I’d never really heard of it,” Wiberg said. “So I went over and it was just (like) let’s give this a try and see if I like it.”
Chamberlain told Wiberg about a training camp that was being held later that year to introduce athletes with impairments to Nordic skiing. He took her up on the invitation and fell in love with sit skiing at the camp.
Wiberg, who was born with spina bifida, now hopes to someday qualify for the Paralympic Winter Games. In fact, he based his decision on where to go to college in large part on what would be best for his development as a Nordic skier.
A native of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Wiberg left the state where he had lived his entire life and moved to Bozeman, Montana, where he could train with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing coaches. Over the past few months, he has worked his training schedule around his freshman year at Montana State.
“I thought this was the best option if I wanted to continue to purse this at a higher level,” said Wiberg, who turns 19 on Nov. 27.
Wiberg said his parents believed early on that he’d have difficulty walking because he has spina bifida, a disabling condition that resulted in him being born with his spinal cord exposed on his back.
Wiberg can walk short distances, but he uses a wheelchair to travel longer distances. His condition, however, didn’t prevent him from earning his black belt in karate and swimming for his high school team.
“With karate, that was kind of one of those things where it actually helped me with my walking and a lot of my balance just because I was on my feet and I was standing,” Wiberg said. “And I could do some of the kicks and things like that, not as well as obviously other kids, but I was able to make it work for me.”
Wiberg started downhill skiing as a way to spend time with his family and “be like every other kid.” Growing up in Wisconsin, he’d have to drive 90 minutes to the area around Minneapolis to find places to ski.
Chamberlain then introduced Wiberg to Nordic skiing when he was a high school sophomore.
“I really loved it right away, and just (with) my sports background, it definitely helped kind of pick it up,” Wiberg said. “… I just like sports that involve a grind like track and field and skiing, so I was hooked.”
Wiberg said his interest in qualifying for the Winter Paralympics intensified after he was invited to compete in February at a world cup event in Finsterau, Germany. He didn’t fare well in his races, but it didn’t matter.
He was able to see his own progress.
Wiberg said he finished last or almost last in every event he competed in at the world cup event, but he was encouraged by his times. He broke his personal records in some race by several minutes.
“Getting to compete with the best in the world made me really want to push it even harder and train as much as I can to be the best because that’s what I want to do,” Wiberg said. “And it just made me start to really get competitive and look at times and look at where I’m at and really become even more competitive with the sport.”
Since moving to Bozeman this fall for college, Wiberg has been training with former Olympic hopeful Nick Michaud, who’s the development team coach for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing.
Michaud helped design a training schedule for Wiberg, who’s majoring in exercise science at Montana State. He trains Tuesday through Sunday, and he has learned to structure his day around his workouts.
Wiberg has been focusing on the Para biathlon, which is a variation on the traditional biathlon that combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting.
“(I’m) just working on my technique because I’m relatively new to the sport,” Wiberg said of Nordic skiing. “So getting my technique down and getting that as perfect as I can is one of my biggest things because I do have a lot of power behind me. But it’s just finding a way to harness that power and get my technique.”