U.S. Paralympics Sno... Features Katlyn Maddry’s Jour...

Katlyn Maddry’s Journey Through Snowboarding Led Her Back To Her Birth Country For The Winter Games

By Stephen Kerr | March 24, 2022, 12:30 p.m. (ET)

Katy Maddry competes in banked slalom at the World Para Snow Sports Championships in Lillehammer. (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The city of Guangzhou is located on the Pearl River in the province of Guangdong, China. It sits about 80 miles northwest of Hong Kong and is one of China’s largest cities.


It’s also where U.S. Para snowboarder Katlyn Maddry spent the first six years of her life before being adopted by American parents and brought to Alaska.


Earlier this month the 20-year-old Maddry returned to China, where she made her Paralympic Winter Games debut. Although Guangzhou is over a thousand miles from where she competed in the mountains northwest of Beijing, she was eager to return to the country, even if her memories of it have faded over the years.


“I have a photo album, so I remember the small stuff,” Maddry said before the Games. “When I get to Beijing, I feel like I’ll recognize a lot of the buildings because they all look pretty similar.”


Maddry, who goes by Katy, was the youngest member of the U.S. snowboarding team in Beijing, and she had a solid showing in the snowboardcross event, where she advanced out of qualifying and ultimately finished 12th. She was unable to start the banked slalom event due to injury.


It was a full-circle journey.


Born with fibular hemimelia, a condition that resulted in scoliosis, Maddry was abandoned by her mother at a local police station, then taken to an orphanage where she spent the next six years. Her salvation came when Jim and LeAnn Maddry noticed an ad promoting adoption in a magazine. The couple brought Katy to Wasilla, Alaska, where she lived until moving to Maine at age 18.


Maddry became involved in winter sports in fifth grade. After having her right leg amputated as a result of her scoliosis at age 8, she was invited to attend an event at Alyeska Ski Resort in Alaska. From there she joined Challenge Alaska, an adaptive ski and snowboard team that she trained with throughout high school.


Maddry tried both sports when she started the program.


“I raced with them every Saturday,” Maddry said. “They have a super awesome program and got me this far.”


Maddry didn’t take to snowboarding at first. She chuckled when recalling the many times she fell during her early years in the sport.


“My mom was like, ‘You can do it,’” Maddry said. “She never let me give up, which was awesome of her.”


Between her family’s encouragement and practice, Maddry improved to a point where she believed there could be a future for her in snowboarding. She competed in Alyeska’s annual banked slalom competition, even though she was the only adaptive athlete there.


“I didn’t have any competition,” she said. “But it was still fun to experience it all.”


It was also during her fifth-grade year that Maddry learned to play chess. While she still enjoys a good game, it couldn’t hold a candle to the thrill of being on a snowboard. Chess did, however, teach her to think ahead, a valuable asset in snowboarding.


“You have to think about where you’re going to go in banked slalom, taking a high line versus a low line, or your body movement in boardercross,” Maddry said. “It’s all strategic in a way.”


Maddry met soon-to-be two-time Paralympic medalist Keith Gabel at an amputee camp in 2014, shortly before he competed at the Winter Games in Sochi. The two have become fast friends, and Maddry considers him one of her strongest supporters.


“I went to Ski (Spectacular), and that’s when he started showing me the ropes and what’s going on,” Maddry said. “It’s really cool how far he has brought me.”


Shortly before the 2021-22 world cup opener in Landgraaf, Netherlands, Maddry sought the help of Adaptive Action Sports, the nonprofit run by Paralympic medalist Amy Purdy and her husband Daniel Gale. They responded immediately, and she began training with them.


Her results improved dramatically. After finishing seventh and then ninth in banked slalom in Landgraaf, Maddry continued improving and later captured silver and bronze medals in snowboardcross in Klovsjo, Sweden. In her world championships debut in January in Lillehammer, Norway, Maddry turned heads by finishing fourth in dual banked slalom, putting her in position to make the U.S. Paralympic Team.


“The world championships surprised me for sure,” Maddry said. “I was not expecting to be literally so close to a podium. It was awesome. It taught me how much I’ve improved this season.”


When she made the final roster for Beijing, Maddry began texting everyone she knew. The significance of returning to the country where she was born wasn’t lost on her, even though she has very little attachment to the region.


“I’m still really new to this,” she said before the Winter Paralympics. “… I’m going to soak in the whole experience, everything here.”

Stephen Kerr

Stephen Kerr is a freelance journalist and newsletter publisher based in Austin, Texas. He is a contributor to USParaSnowboarding.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter @smkwriter1.