Skiing rookie ‘makes’ his own way
The U.S. Ski Team’s newest rookie brings a lot of experience to the job.
He should. After all, Erik Bayindirli is 46, making him the oldest rookie to compete for America in skiing, but he doesn’t let that stop him. In fact, he doesn’t let a whole lot else stop him either. Bayindirli, was paralyzed from the waist down at age 19 in a car accident, but kept right on pursuing all of his loves.
Bayindirli has been skiing his entire life and even managed to make it to the Paralympics in Turin, Italy, two years ago despite the fact that he wasn’t a member of the U.S. Ski Team at the time. Last year, he skied his way to third place at the U.S. Nationals and earned a spot on this year’s disabled alpine team. It’s this vision and determination to find a way to succeed that has always guided his life.
At about the same time as the accident, he was busy preparing for a career in jewelry making, gaining the knowledge that has shaped who is today. Bayindirli grew up in Switzerland and moved from Europe to the States when he was 17. He was already done with his prep schooling at that point, but decided it would be fun to take some classes at La Jolla High School. It was there that he showed an aptitude for jewelry making and the next year headed to Oregon to attend a diamond-setting school.
For two years, he ran a jewelry business in San Diego until he realized that he was working so hard that he was only skiing two days a week. He decided to get out of retail and make jewelry privately at his home. It was the right choice as his time on the snow immediately increased.
Later, he moved the Utah and began to balance his passions for skiing and making things.
Now, Bayindirli is a regular MacGyver in his two home workshops. When he’s not handcrafting rings or designing pendants, he is still in his shop busily working on his monoski or making improvements to his wheelchair. He has even built his own monoski and wheelchair. These days, he feels that the technology of commercially-made monoskis exceeds what he can do, but he still meticulously customizes his sleds. Right now he is tweaking his outriggers and trying to remold the carbon fiber of the monoski seat so it will fit him better. A while ago, he added a component to his wheelchair to help him go up and down stairs and has erected a pole system in his basement so he can climb stairs while strapped to his chair.
There is plenty of proof of his creativity on YouTube where Bayindirli has uploaded short tutorials on stair climbing, core training and even how paraplegics can weigh themselves.
Bayindirli began skiing at the age of three in Switzerland when his father would stick him and his brother, Jem, on the bottom of his ski poles and pull them up the mountain. Although Jem eventually strayed away from the sport, Bayindirli was always on the mountain, first as an able-bodied person and later as a monoskier, but never losing his love of it.
"I don’t think I’ve missed a winter since I was three," he said.
Blending his love of both skiing and making things, Bayindirli is convinced that equipment is the most important component to success in disabled skiing. With so many different types of injuries and limitations and so many variations in equipment, he feels that if people aren’t using the best possible system, their skiing will suffer. He made sure his equipment was just perfect in 2006 when he qualified for the Paralympics even though he was not a member of the U.S. team at that point.
"I think the only reason I made the Ski Team at the age of 46 is equipment," he said.
In able-bodied skiing, he said, equipment is responsible for about 10 percent of an athlete’s performance, but in disabled skiing the percentage goes way up.
"In disabled skiing," he said, " it’s everything."
He hopes one day to coach disabled skiing and help people improve their equipment to improve their skiing.
"To me, that’s the missing link," he said.
He’s already got a bit of a head start on that, helping his teammates whenever possible.
"I try to help skiers, especially the young guys on the team," Bayindirli said.
Bayindirli has also had top-level experience in other sports. He plays wheelchair tennis and even played in the U.S. Wheelchair Open in San Diego. He also waterskis and handcycles to keep in shape and, of course, he custom-made equipment for those two sports as well.
But skiing is his favorite, and he’s hoping that, with a little luck and perhaps a bit more gerry-rigging of his equipment, he will earn his way onto the World Cup team and show what he’s made of.
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