Mark Birdeye poses during a training session with Sini Pyy and Liisa Lilja of Finland along with Joy Rondeau and Beth Requist.
The path to the Paralympics for many runs through the home of one Mark Birdseye.
A look at the ranks of athletes that have stayed at the Birdseye residence in Colorado while training for the Paralympic Games backs that up.
“I've had America's best in the basement,” he said.
When his two children grew up and moved out it made space for some of Team USA’s top Paralympians, including Dan Cnossen, Oksana Masters, Kendall Gretsch and Tatyana McFadden, not to mention the teams of athletes from Finland and the UK he hosted for multiple weeks at a time leading up to the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi.
The hospitality is just one example of how Birdseye continues to go above and beyond in his life’s work.
“More than just the U.S. team, I'm very much into promoting the Paralympic Movement,” he said. “I always tell the athletes we have to be educators and let people know what Para sport is about and what differentiates it from the Special Olympics and Olympics.”
Birdseye is a natural mentor, a pure educator and uses that to help lift the Paralympic Movement from the ground up. He worked at with the Nordic ski program at Stone Mountain Ranch YMCA for 25 years after receiving his degree at Iowa State.
He then received a grant to start a competitive Nordic program with the National Sports Center for the Disabled after his time at Snow Mountain Ranch.
“I jumped in and it's like jumping into a new culture,” he said. “I learned a lot and got involved. I really like working with people who want to excel at whatever it is they're going to choose to excel at.”
Birdseye's work with Paralympic hopefuls has translated to recruiting young athletes to try adaptive sport as he started teaching high school physical education 10 years ago.
While COVID-19 has limited in-person contact with students and athletes, Birdseye said he’s worked hard to stay in contact, speaking with athletes on the phone at least once every other day and even going mountain biking occasionally.
“I'm not just an advocate for Paralympic sports, I'm an advocate for accessibility,” he said. “Right now, it's about keeping people active and engaged, touching base with them and encouraging them to stay fit and as snow comes, move to some specific training.”
Birdseye has been able to go back to in-person teaching as schools opened and hopes to return to in-person strength training with his athletes, eventually getting back to doing his favorite part of the job, watching the athletes he’s training compete at the highest level.
“I've had the opportunity to run with former world record holders and I think one of the things I've learned is these are human beings excelling at what they have and using the gifts they've got,” he said. “It's very exciting and satisfying to see them achieve at the highest level and watch them accomplish a goal that they've set out to achieve regardless of what's happened in their lives.