Go For The Gold: Tyler Walker

Go For The Gold

BY TRACI HENDRIX I MARCH 5, 2013

 
Tyler Walker competes in the men's giant slalom at the Torino
2006 Paralympic Winter Games on March 17, 2006.

Have you ever simply known exactly what it is you wanted to do? Been inspired by something that just makes you want to be a part of it? At the age of 6, Tyler Walker knew he wanted to be a part of the skiing world.

Born with lumbar sacral aegensis, and becoming a double amputee at the age of four, Walker begged his parents to take him skiing. Without knowing how to let him ski with his school friends, Walker's father found a way to kick-start his athletic dreams.

"My dad bolted cross-country skis to the bottom of this plastic sled and metal levers to the sides so I could drag in the snow to turn," said Walker about his adaptive skiing expedition.

The new equipment developed into a snowboard with a seat attached to it, so from the start Walker was semi-trained for bi-ski and monoskiing. The Walker family then learned of Northeast Passage, an adaptive ski program in Durham, N.H., when Tyler was 9. There he began using regulatory adaptive ski equipment, and with his participation and practice within Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley programs, Walker grew in his talent and passion for adaptive skiing.

At the ripe age of 13, Walker transitioned to monoskiing and began his competitive racing career. Waterville Valley was home to some of Walker’s first races, and later at Loon Mountain, Walker met future teammate Chris Devlin-Young.

“From when I was 15 to 17, I trained with him and Laurie Stephens,” Walker explained in an email to TeamUSA.org. “When I was 17, I did well enough in national races to qualify for the national team. I won my first World Cup in the 2003-2004 season in giant slalom in Abtenau, Austria.”

But with athletic drive and the desire to stay active, Walker tried other sports during the off-season. Biking and skateboarding were among the various sports he attempted, but none of them possessed the potential and passion skiing filled him with.

“Nothing was as serious to me as skiing,” Walker said.

What really gets him excited and revved up for races is “all about energy.”

“When you are at the top of the mountain you have access to a huge amount of potential energy,” he said. “You then get to decide how and where on the mountain you want to unleash it. The challenge of doing that in a manner that gets you to the bottom faster and more efficiently than anyone else is really fun and stimulating.”

After his first World Cup win in 2004, he moved on to rank second in the giant slalom standings in 2005 and third overall in the 2006 World Cup standings. The 2006 season was pertinent to his professional skiing career when he went to the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team.

The NorAm Championships landed him four top-3 finishes, and he continued his winning streak with a gold medal in both the 2009 and 2010 X Games in Aspen, Colo.

Since the age of 6, his persistence has been paramount over all else. Needless to say, Walker is determined to be unsurpassed in his skiing performance.

“One major thing that keeps me going is the unattainability of perfection,” Walker said. “There is always another level to get to. Even if you win, you could have won by more time. How do you do this? What kind of technique or technology will get you to a higher level of skiing?”

He is constantly trying to better his skill, his abilities and his techniques in order to ski at his highest level. He compares his actions to those of able-bodied skiers and admires their hard work as he does his own.

“A great challenge is figuring out how to get a monoski to perform as well as a complete body, and I need to see how they accomplish a run so that I know how far I need to go,” he said.

Relating his agility and movement to that of able-bodied skiers is aimed to improve his skills as an adaptive skier, put his mind in the correct setting and never stop striving for excellence as a skier in general.

 
Tyler Walker competes in the men's giant slalom at the Vancouver
2010 Paralympic WInter Games on March 16, 2010.

I want to be recognized not as a disabled athlete, but as an elite athlete, period,” Walker said. If I can do that through the context of the Paralympics then I am more than willing to do so.”

Walker has not been one to dwell on disability. He consistently pushes to be better and understand more than what is in his direct surroundings. At the University of New Hampshire, he earned his degrees in geography and international affairs, with minors in German and political science. This wide range of study pursued his interests, sharpened his mind and has served him well with skiing also.

“I studied what I most enjoyed learning about,” said Walker on why he studied various fields. “Any place, culture, language or people that are different than my own interest me greatly. German has proved particularly useful, as most of our races and travels take place in German-speaking countries.”

Being versatile in language, culture and practice has served him well thus far in his journey to the top. The next stop for Walker, after the world championships and World Cup finals, is the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. He has expressed his desire to ultimately compete at his highest level but not to have complete tunnel vision.

“My goals for 2013 are not quite the desire to win medals, but to ski at my full potential every time I race,” Walker explained. “If I do this, then I can usually win, and therefore, get a medal. I don't like to focus on getting a medal, because I usually forget how to ski at that point.”

Walker has expressed his journey to the next Games has been one of strenuous training and continuous hard work. There is still a year’s worth of work to accomplish and goals to be met, but Walker believes he is strong enough to improve his skills and confident that everything will get worked out in time for Sochi. But skiing isn’t the only reason he is excited to travel to Russia.

“I have never been to Russia, so it will be completely new for me, as well as most of the people I compete against, so it should be a good equalizer,” he said. “I am a huge fan of different cultures and the challenge of adapting to them, so I hope to learn as much as I can about Russian culture.”

After starting out on a “glorified sled,” Walker continues on an incline within his skiing career, as well as his cultural diversity, and can be expected to showcase his impressive athleticism at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.