Brenna Huckaby celebrates winning the Gold medal in the Women's Snowboard Cross SB-LL1 during day three of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games on March 12, 2018.
Compared to Para sports like track, swimming and Alpine skiing that have long histories and many athletes, the world of Para snowboarding is relatively small.
Colton Bradley is not quite sure why this is case. Bradley is the head coach of Para snowboarding at the National Ability Center (NAC) in Park City, Utah, and he has coached many of Team USA’s top athletes in the sport. That includes the likes of Brenna Huckaby. Huckaby learned of Para snowboarding in Park City in 2013, and she quickly accelerated into the international spotlight.
Huckaby won two gold medals at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, her first Games. Currently, she ranks second in the world in snowboardcross SB-LL1, and third in banked slalom SB-LL1.
While Huckaby is a strong selling point in Bradley’s resume, he also speaks highly of another young star: Noah Elliott. Elliott won gold in PyeongChang in banked slalom and bronze in snowboardcross one year after joining the national team.
Still, Bradley wants to see more disabled people join the sport. Whether they want gold or to just experiment on the snow, he is happy to take on athletes. He currently coaches only five athletes.
And because the Para snowboard world is so small, prospective athletes and fans alike may not know a lot about the sport. With that in mind, Bradley shared a few key insights on the sport for fans and those who want to join. There are many Para sport groups in the country, but Bradley gave a hat tip to his home squad in Park City.
What should I look out for?
“When we want to say, ‘They’re just competing like anybody else, right?’ Don’t look at the disability in somebody, but look at the ability in what they can do. We get sometimes going down the slope training and somebody sees one of my athletes’ prosthetics legs. Like, ‘Whoa, that’s so amazing! I can’t believe you can do that.’
“But don’t look at that part, look at what they can do. That’s so hard to say because it’s so inspirational to most people. But to our athletes, it’s just them being them doing what they can do. So look at the incredible ability of Brenna Huckaby or of Noah Elliot, these guys that are incredible. Don’t try to pick out the differences, but look at the similarities.”
Why should I watch Para snowboarding?
“Anything is achievable for anybody, and I think some people look down on Para sports being an inspiration, but it is an inspiration for a lot of younger kids and people with disabilities to bring them out of that. Anything is possible, and you can see that these athletes are competing at levels that would blow your mind. They will smoke your regular able-bodied athletes most of the times. Most of my athletes, when they reach that level, are beating me. I’m just competing.”
What is the classification system?
“We’ve got lower-limb 1. It’s your more impaired disability, so that’s going to be an above-the-knee amputation or a bilateral BK (below knee) amputation. Then sometimes, it depends on the case, a high level of CP. You don’t see it very often. For LL2, that’s your lower-limb amputee. Up limb (UL) is pretty self-explanatory. That’s anything from the wrist up. That could be bilateral, too. We used to have an old athlete who had a bilateral amputation on both arms. It is interesting. Say you had a bilateral arm amputation, you could race against somebody who was missing a hand.”
Where can I sign up?
“It depends on where you live. You’d move here (to Park City) and start our training program. First, we’d get you classified, we’d get your IPC license, we would get you in NorAm races. We would get you points, get you to the world cup, and then you’re going to be a star, you know. The starting is hard. We usually start from a ski camp, like SkiSpec (Ski Spectacular), which is in December. You get a lot of young kids who want to experience the competition for the first time. Then I talk them into going to the University of Utah, which they love. Then they’re already here. That’s happened quite a few times when they’ve loved college and they want to be close to the mountains. It just works hand in hand, so they join the team.”