Paralympic athletes with ties to National Ability Center bring home seven medals
The Pyeongchang Paralympic Games are over and it’s safe to say local athletes shined. Athletes with ties to the National Ability Center, which supports a team and helps provide training for prospective athletes, brought home seven medals out of the U.S.’s 36. For comparison, more than half of the participating countries earned eight or fewer medals, including Italy (5) and China (1).
Jess Roising, competition program manager at the NAC, and self-described “team mom,” said the successes filled her with “overwhelming pride,” and illustrated the program’s growth.
“I think so many of us knew that we had this full potential, and now we’re just finally maximizing it,” she said.
It started with women’s snowboard cross LL-1, (significant impairment in one leg or significant combined impairment in both legs), where Brenna Huckaby took gold. According to Roising, Huckaby has been with the NAC for four years, starting with her debut performance at the national para-snowboard cross competition in the 2013-2014 season. Huckaby arrived at the NAC for a camp after losing part of her leg to bone cancer, and stayed with the program after the camp. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native also took gold in the LL-1 banked slalom.
“She says that snowboarding is what gave her her spark back,” Roising said. “She had not found something yet that gave her that freedom. She’s done incredibly well, I can remember her first race four years ago at nationals, she’s been impressive from the start.”
Noah Elliott, who came to the NAC from his hometown of Bridgton, Missouri, took bronze in the LL-1 snowboard cross and gold in the LL-1 men’s banked slalom.
“He’s had an epic rise in the adaptive snowboard world, and it’s because of his drive,” Roising said of the 20-year-old, who joined the NAC last year. “He moved out here not even knowing if he would make the team. And we made it work.”
Keith Gabel, an Ogden native who graduated from Ben Lomond High School, took silver in the men’s snowboard cross LL-2 competition (an impairment in one leg or a less severe impairment in both legs). Gabel is an alumnus of the NAC, meaning he has trained with the organization in the past. He moved to Colorado five years ago, but started his competitive career with the NAC.
Roising described Gabel as “one of the pioneers in adaptive snowboard,” for his efforts in making it more competitive.
Four-time Paralympian Tyler Walker took silver in both the sitting slalom and giant slalom at the age of 31. Walker has been on the competitive sit-ski alpine World Cup circuit since he was 19, when he was the circuit’s runner-up finisher in giant slalom. He took first overall the next year.
Roising said Walker joins the NAC high-performance team for trainings, though he spends most of his time with the U.S. national team.
Roising said much of the NAC’s success with drawing high-performance athletes can be attributed to its head coach, Erik Lierfallom, who was also one of the coaches for the U.S. national team at the Pyeongchang Paralympic Games, and was named U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s adaptive coach of the year last season.
“He’s really making the team what we knew it could be,” Roising said. “We’ve always been told Park City and the NAC had the potential, but we weren’t there yet, and now were coming into our potential — we’re maturing, it’s exciting.”
The U.S. earned the most medals of any country at the Paralymic Games with 36, followed by Neutral Paralympic Athletes (essentially Russia) and Canada, with 24 and 28 respectively. The NPA had more silvers, putting it ahead in IOC’s rankings.
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