Gold medalist Andrew Soule celebrates during the medal ceremony for Men's 1.1km Sprint, Sitting during day five of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games on March 14, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea
You may have already heard of Andy Soule before the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. His already extraordinary story of becoming an elite athlete and competing in two Paralympics gave him that legendary status, but possibly the most dramatic race finish of the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics put him into a category of his own.
Soule was sitting at fourth place coming out of the final corner of the cross-country sprint ski race when he found his stride. He was relentless in his chase and ended up fighting from a fourth-place finish to Paralympic gold.
“I certainly didn't know as I came off the hill that it was going to turn into a win,” he said. “I could see based on just my sense of skiing, that I had a shot at the podium.”
Soule’s remarkable jump in the spring got him his first and only Paralympic title.
“I think a lot of the guys ahead of me were a little bit more out of gas and I think that my skis were running a little better,” he said. “I got a faster patch of snow on the left. There was a huge excitement as I saw that gap start to close.”
That moment in South Korea was just one small result of a long road to Paralympic glory for Andy Soule.
Soule was deployed in Afghanistan in 2005 when an IED detonated near his Humvee, resulting in a double leg amputation. He went through rehabilitation in San Antonio and started getting into Paralympic sports through Operation Comfort, which helps with recovery for wounded troops.
From there, Soule recognized he could have a future as an endurance athlete and started training for cross-country skiing and biathlon. Soule said the motivation to compete played a big role in his recovery.
“It's not just what you do in practice. It's the decisions you make throughout the day,” he said. “I think that’s a hurdle anyone has to get over to really get from the level of being a gifted amateur to being an actual elite competitor.”
Soule found himself seriously training for the Paralympics less than a year after his injury and made it his goal to become the best after leaving the military in 2006. Training full time in Sun Valley, Idaho, he received an invite to the U.S. Para Nordic Nationals and impressed to work his way onto the national team.
Since then, he’s been improving every year, steadily adapting to the growing standard for world-class cross-country skiing and adjusting to the growth of coverage for Para athletes.
“The level of competition was already really high, but I was also part of an era of development in our sport where I could tell that the level of competition was really advancing right along with me,” he said.
“The elevation, the level of competition, just in general in the Paralympics has gone along with a real increase in the amount of exposure we were getting.”
As the sport evolved and the level of competition improved, Soule wasn’t trying to keep up, rather lead the pack.
He’s earned three medals – one gold and two bronze - in three Paralympic Games and became the first U.S. biathlete to win a Paralympic medal in 2010 along with his seven medals from four world championships.
And as the Paralympics gain more exposure, Soule said he wants Para athletes like him to be seen as the elite athletes they are rather than someone who’s just dealing with their disability.
“I didn’t necessarily approach it, toward the end there especially, that I'm a disabled athlete. I’m just an athlete,” Soule said. “The fact that the sports were adapted for people with disabilities is just an extra factor.
“In anything that’s competitive at a high level, it becomes about doing what you can with what you have. And that's something that doesn't just apply to people who are living and working with a disability.”