Tyler Carter was a little shocked when he heard he was going to Sochi.
Although he had been working toward this goal since he was a student at Brandywine Heights High School, the 20-year-old was shocked when he learned he was nominated to the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team.
The Berks County resident will at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, next month.
“At first, I was like ... are you serious?” Carter said.
Carter said he was hopeful he would ski in the 2014 Paralympic Games, but that he was never completely sure.
The Winter Paralympics take place every four years, just after the Olympic Games, in the same host city. They are exclusively for athletes with visual impairments and physical disabilities.
Carter, of Topton, was born without a fibula — the bone that connects the knee to the ankle — in his right leg. At age 1, Carter had his right leg amputated from below the knee. Carter’s dad, Edward, said he thought it would be better to get his son’s leg amputated at a young age so that walking with one foot would be “normal” for him.
Carter said having his leg amputated earlier in life was a blessing.
“In a way I feel pretty lucky ... I don’t have another life that I used to know,” Carter said.
Carter hasn’t let his amputation affect his involvement in sports. Carter has participated in basketball, skateboarding and tennis, but he says his favorite sport is skiing. Carter was 8 when he had his first experience after joining a ski camp at Camelback Mountain Resort in the Poconos. The camp included adaptive programs through the Pennsylvania Center of Adaptive Sports.
“From that point on, I fell in love with it,” Carter said.
After three years at ski camp, one of Carter’s coaches invited him to Mount Hood in Oregon where he learned to race. Carter had his first race at 13 in Park City, Utah.
“I was the youngest there and I finished maybe one out of four races,” Carter said. “But that got me hooked.”
Since Carter’s first race, he has continued to train and compete. His ultimate goal has always been the Paralympics.
“I’m so honored that I can just go out and represent the U.S. in Russia,” Carter said.
Carter has been competing with USA’s Paralympics Emerging Team, which picks up athletes with potential then provides some funding and training camps to athletes.
Carter competed in his first World Cup last month in Copper Mountain, Colo. He participated in four races and said he did really well in the giant slalom, which is his event for Sochi.
Carter’ has been spending the winter months in Winter Park, Colo., to help his training. He took a short break from training last week to help coach at his old ski camp at Camelback. Carter has been a counselor and assistant coach at Camelback for the past few years. He said he’s a big believer in giving back to the programs that got him started.
Carter said he loves ski racing and, right now, is focused on his competition. But when he’s finished, he would like to coach an adaptive program such as the Paralympics.
Carter said he had incredible counselors at ski camp, and credited his family and community for his berth in the Paralympics.
“It’s not a one-man show. You have a team behind you,” Carter said.
Carter’s dad, Edward, said even his high school was accommodating when it came to his son missing class for races. Tyler graduated high school in 2012, but before then he had to balance his love for ski racing and coursework.
Edward said Tyler took a heavy course load his junior year, and was forced to miss some races. Some of Carter’s national coaches thought that meant he wasn’t serious about skiing, but Edward said it was their plan to make senior year light so Carter could focus on the snow.
After graduation, Edward told his son to put his energy toward skiing, reminding him that college would always be there.
“You can only do this for so long,” Edward said.
So that’s exactly what Tyler Carter did. He graduated in 2012 and spent two years focused on ski racing. Carter is now one of 26 athletes and four guides for the Paralympics Alpine Ski Team. Carter said now that he has qualified for the Paralympics, he’s more excited than nervous. He said he wants to win a gold medal but is ready for whatever happens.
“To be honest, I just want to go out and have some fun,” Carter said.
Carter flew back to Colorado Tuesday morning to continue training before the Paralympics. He will fly out to Sochi a week before the March 7 opening ceremony, and will spend time training on the slopes there. He said he’s glad to have one event to focus on and doesn’t have to worry about racing on multiple days. Carter’s event, the men’s giant slalom, is on March 15.
Carter’s family is unable to join him in Sochi because of expense. Carter said a plane ticket to Sochi is about $5,000. Carter’s dad, Edward said the family will have some type of party at home where they will watch Carter compete. TeamUSA.org is live streaming all the Paralympics events, while NBC and NBC Sports Network will show a combined 50 hours of coverage, beginning with the opening ceremony.
Carter advises young athletes with physical disabilities to never give up. He said he didn’t think he would make it to the Paralympics a year ago, but he worked really hard and made his dream a reality.
“Keep working at it and eventually it will come.” Carter said.