“Skiing is amazing. I can’t exactly describe the joy and exhilaration you get when you are barreling down the mountain at speeds up to 60 mph,” said Topton skier Tyler Carter who is headed to Sochi for the Paralympic Games. “No one on the hill knows that I’m disabled unless I want them to know. I can do anything I want to out on the slopes and nothing holds me back.”
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 Topton resident will be 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, a Hamburg native, 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.
“I have also been very fortunate that my school was really understanding and supportive,” said Tyler. “All the teachers and administration at Brandywine Heights have been really good about me skiing, especially when I was traveling for months at a time. I had some of the best teachers in middle school and high school and they were incredibly understanding, especially when it came to my schoolwork and grades.”
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.
“Tyler is dedicated, responsible, (he has been counselor for several amputee/disabled youth camps), easy going,” said his Dad. “We are very proud of him and excited to see him reach his dream.”
His grandmother Anne Hiryak of Barto said he is a “wonderful kid” and they “wish him the best. Proud to have him represent the USA in the Paralympics. GO USA.”
“My family has been really supportive and has had my back from the beginning,” Tyler told Berks-Mont Newspapers. “I couldn’t have gotten here without my parent’s support.”
“And my friends in Topton have been really great to me even when I leave for long periods of time,” said Tyler. “When I come home I can forget about everything going on and can just focus on having fun and relaxing. It gives me a nice break from training.”
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.
Lisa Mitchell of Berks-Mont Newspapers contributed to this article.