Parkite Chris Waddell will be inducted into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame’s class of 2019
All it took was a phone call on Friday, Sept. 20 for Chris Waddell’s life to change.
When Waddell, a champion monoskier, picked up the phone, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland was on the other end to deliver the big news — Waddell was being inducted into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame’s class of 2019.
The only catch: Waddell couldn’t say anything to anyone.
“It was so amazing to get in, but then I couldn’t tell anybody about it until it was officially announced, so that was funny,” said Waddell while laughing. “Of course, I had to tell somebody, so I told my wife and father. Of course they were excited, honestly probably more excited than I was, which was cool to see.”
The Hall of Fame is something Waddell never really expected after ending his career as one of the greatest monoskiers in American history.
“This was never a goal of mine when I first started skiing because I loved to do it and it’s all I wanted to do,” Waddell said. “The goal for me wasn’t to just be the best in world, but to do things nobody dreamed were possible. … In that sense my motivation would’ve put me into this position but honestly I never really considered it.
Waddell’s career began to take off when he was a promising athlete at Middlebury College, a small liberal arts college in Middlebury, Vermont. But his life changed during the Christmas break of 1988 when a skiing crash left him paralyzed from the waist down.
But rather than sulk and let the injury prevent him from living his life, Waddell took the challenge head on, determined to make the most of it and become a role model for others.
“In a way since the accident, I’ve become part of that group of people who are invisible because we are taught when little not to stare at someone who’s different,” Waddell said. “I think the visibility that getting into the hall of fame gives me more a platform to make a difference, to make us no longer invisible. Too often people assume we are limited but I’m trying to prove that we aren’t.”
A year after the accident, Waddell was back on the slopes, but this time on a monoski. From there, all it took was two years before he was competing as a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, leading to his illustrious career.
Over the course of seven combined winter and summer Olympics (four winter, three summer), Waddell won 13 medals. Of those medals, five of them were gold, six were silver and two were bronze while also being a World Champion in both winter and summer events.
“There’s a huge responsibility on us athletes in the Paralympics because we have to find a way to perform well but also communicate our story of struggle, success and strategy,” Waddell said. “Everything we go through is to ultimately make ourselves more relatable on a personal level. We love to root for the underdog but we can’t always identify with them on a 1 v. 1 basis. … So that’s what I’ve always tried to do, win and then become relatable to prove we are the human beings also.”
Even with all of the medals and the accolades that came with it, Waddell has continued to test his limits and fight the supposed circumstances of his life. In 2009, he was the first paraplegic person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro alone, and he completed the Boston Marathon by rolling himself all 26.2 miles.
Although Waddell has previously been inducted into the Paralympic and U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fames, his induction into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame is on a whole other level.
“Not to diminish the others ones (Hall of Fames) because those are huge but this is for all of the sports in our country, regardless of limitations,” Waddell said. “I get to be peers with the best of the best and it’s incredible to be talked about and thought of in the same regards as those already in the Hall.”
Waddell openly acknowledges how life will be different once Nov. 1 comes and goes, because once the ceremony to celebrate his induction is over, the real work begins.
“When you get an award like this, its for things you did in the past so that’s kind of strange because it feels like a lifetime ago,” Waddell said. “But getting in certainly comes with a responsibility for the future. It’s a wonderful celebration of the past accomplishments, but most importantly it’s a creator of momentum moving forward.”
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the location of Middlebury College.
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