U.S. Paralympics Sno... Features Joe Pleban: “It Feel...

Joe Pleban: “It Feels So Good To Be On Snow”

By Joe Pleban | Oct. 22, 2020, 11:16 a.m. (ET)

Joe Pleban is a Para snowboarder looking to make his first U.S. Paralympic Team in 2022. Here, he writes from Hintertux Glacier in Austria, where he’s training for the first time since March.

It’s my first time snowboarding in Austria, and so far, it’s been awesome. It’s absolutely gorgeous here. The first couple days we were here it was pretty foggy, with low visibility, but a lot of those were quarantine days anyway. Right now, it’s a bluebird day outside, and has been for the past three days.

This is my first time strapped into a board since March. I broke my clavicle for the second time at the end of February — it turned out it was in like 19 pieces — so I ended up getting surgery and couldn’t go on a world cup and training trip to Norway. Turns out, I actually dodged a bullet there. In March, I was at home, arm in a sling, when COVID blew up and the rest of the team was trying to get back into the U.S. At the time, we were afraid they would close the border while the team was still there. And so I was sitting there going, “I’m kind of glad I didn’t go now.”

It also turned out to be the best time to do recovery, because I wasn’t missing out on everything. One of the toughest things about recovering from an injury, especially with social media and how connected everything is, is seeing your teammates and your friends ripping it up while you’re just sitting at home, arm in a sling. So it made me feel a bit better knowing that everyone was in the same boat, sitting at home waiting to see what was going to happen. Now, I’m about eight months out from the surgery, and it’s a little crunchy in there, but overall it’s been doing well.

I managed to fit some workouts in, too. I’ve been doing body weight workouts at home and going to the gym to stay in shape, but I haven’t been able to get on snow at all in the past eight months. I think I got on a skateboard maybe once or twice and that was about it.

So coming back, naturally, was kind of scary. I know I’m not the only one, but I always have this thought in the back of my head like, “Do I even remember how to snowboard?” I’m actually a professional snowboarder now, but I’m thinking, “Man, I hope I remember what I’m doing out there.” The dinner before we were going to go out on the hill for the first time, we sat down and walked through everything to get mentally ready. It got to the point where I was standing up in the middle of the dining room bending my knees, leaning forward, going through the motions. It really boosted my confidence before getting back on the snow again. Then once I actually strapped in, it was awesome. It feels so good to be on snow.

Since then, we’ve been going out to the gondola almost every day, and our days are pretty packed with training, eating together, and recovery workouts. While we’re here, I’m enjoying being able to train this early in the season and lay down those fundamentals to build upon as the season goes. Plus, I have some new equipment prosthetic-wise that I’m using that I really hope will help my riding. I’m also looking forward to working on banked slalom and applying all these new concepts I’ve learned when I finally get to race again.

As far as competitions go, everything is in flux and we’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants. In the near term, I’m working towards the world cups and world champs leading up to Beijing. Then, of course, making the Beijing team is a goal. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen with these events, but I know it’s going to be fun no matter where we go and what happens. We have a great team and a great team dynamic and wherever we go, we’re gonna kill it and have fun doing it.

Right now, it’s just me and Keith Gable from the snowboarding team here, plus our two coaches. I love it because we get so much one-on-one coaching time, which is huge. And the four of us just have a good dynamic. We get along well. It’s almost like going out snowboarding with your friends. The alpine team is on this trip as well. We don’t usually do trips with them, so it’s been cool getting to know some of them.

Recently, we had a funny moment at the top of the glacier. You take three gondolas to get up to the top, and at the top for some reason they have this life-size cutout planted into the snow, of this dude named Josef holding an Aqualung and wearing a Speedo. We were laughing and I said, “I need a picture with him. I can’t not have a picture with a guy in a Speedo that shares my name.” I have no clue who he is or why his Speedo cutout is at the top of a glacier in Austria, but he must be important to have that kind of status.

Even though we’re all on the glacier together and staying in the same hotel, we’re taking all of the COVID precautions. We keep our distance, and make sure we don’t have strangers coming into the gondola with us. We did have a bit of a scare getting here, though. Since we’re the only two snowboarders, Keith and I are supposed to be rooming together. But as soon as we got to Austria and started quarantining, Keith came down with something. So I was offered my own room. I was like, “Heck yeah, I’ll take my own room.” But once I got to my room, I started feeling sick. So we had this little scare, but we all got tested and came back negative, so it was just some kind of stomach bug. I’ve been in my own room ever since. I think I’m supposed to move back in with Keith at some point. But I haven’t pushed that. It’s actually kind of nice. I’ve been spreading out and spending time in the spa here because the spa is ridiculous.

I miss my wife, though; she’s definitely the person I miss most being out here. We live in a little mountain cabin in the mountains in Colorado, so we spend so much time together, and this is the first big trip of the season that we've been apart. We video call every day, and text each other back and forth every day. We have a big old fuzzy golden retriever/Great Pyrenees mix; he’s this big old goofball. So I miss him, too, and I’m constantly asking for Snapchats of the two of them. That’s what I need to survive right now, Snapchats of my wife and dog all cuddled up in bed together.

Honestly, I thought it would be tougher coming out here and being isolated, especially during quarantine. But our snowboard team is super supportive of each other, which helps with everything. When you see your teammates as teammates and now just competitors, it makes everything go smoothly. I really like our team dynamic that way. Looking forward to more days up here.

Joe Pleban

Joe Pleban is a Para snowboarder originally from Virginia. This post was written in conjunction with Jessica Price, a contributor to USParaSnowboarding.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.