Park City a pipeline to Paralympics, too
When watching the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, it was hard to find an event where no athletes had a Park City connection.
There were the slopestyle pioneers, the alpine shredders and the bobsled sliders, all of whom brought home medals to share with the Park City community.
After the 2014 Sochi Paralympics, which began on Friday, are done, there will most likely be plenty of additional medal-winning athletes for Park City residents to celebrate.
Much like Olympians have the USSA Center of Excellence for support and guidance, Paralympians in Park City have the National Ability Center to turn to.
Following the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics, the National Ability Center decided to take its competition program to the next level.
"Right after the last Olympic cycle, we had an existing alpine competitive team and the beginnings of an adaptive snowboard team, with the hopes and dreams that it would become a Paralympic sport in the future," NAC program director Ellen Adams said. "It wasn’t certain, but we were hopeful."
Once it was announced that snowboardcross would indeed be a 2014 Paralympic sport, the NAC threw even more support into the team.
"We made a conscious decision as a board and as a staff, after a lot of analysis on mission impact, sustainability and feasibility, that we were going to invest significant funds into developing those programs through Sochi," Adams said.
The programs have been working, producing 18 2014 Paralympians, including 10 who will represent the United States.
Adams said there are a variety of factors that make the NAC, and Park City in general, a great place to foster both Olympic and Paralympic dreams.
"Certainly, the ease of getting here is one thing you just come into Salt Lake and boom, you’re up in the mountains really quickly," she said. "The training venues are as good as it gets. Being previous Olympic and Paralympic venues, it doesn’t get much better than that."
Then there are the rigorous training programs the NAC provides to its athletes.
"The fact that we’re running a seven-day-a-week program for an incredibly affordable amount of money we subsidize the athletes’ costs and sponsor them pretty significantly is another reason," Adams said.
Now that boardercross is a Paralympic sport, that’s an area where the NAC has seen a great amount of success in recent years.
"Our partnership with Team Utah on the snowboard side is really unique and a model that has proven to be very successful," Adams said. "We handle the logistics and the administration of the team and they handle all the elite-level coaching."
Team Utah, which coaches both able-bodied and adaptive snowboarders, is doing a fantastic job, Adams said.
"It really is an elite-level team," she said. "They coach world-class able-bodied snowboarders day in and day out. Coaching a snowboarder with a disability is no different. It’s a stand-up sport it’s boardercross."
The success is evident on the national team level.
"Five of the 10 U.S. snowboarders are National Ability Center athletes and two others got their starts here," Adams said. "That’s pretty cool."
Though Adams and the rest of the staff are excited for the Sochi Paralympics, they’re already looking ahead at how they can do even more ahead of the 2018 Games.
"We’re trying to keep our sled hockey program alive," Adams said. "We’d like to continue to build that and have a viable sled hockey team in the future. There is also adaptive bobsled in town, which we are keeping a close eye on and supporting the Utah Olympic Park as much as we can in that program. Who knows where that’s going to go? There’s going to be a bid to get adaptive bobsled into the Paralympics at some point in the future and we’re obviously going to be a part of that."
That way, in 2018, Adams hopes, the National Ability Center will be an even bigger factor in bringing more athletes to the Paralympic Games.
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