March 22, 2018PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Tyler Walker of Franconia, who has competed in every Paralympic Winter Games since 2006, earned the first medal of his storied career with silver in last Wednesday's giant slalom to lead Team USA.
Walker was born with lumbar sacral agenesis, a condition that resulted in his spine missing after the first vertebra; he had both legs amputated at the knee at age four
He grew up skiing in adaptive programs at Waterville Valley and Loon Mountain, eventually joining the New England Disabled Ski Team.
At just 19, he was the world cup overall runner-up for giant slalom.
A year later, he earned his first trip to the Paralympic Winter Games and captured the giant slalom overall World Cup title.
After a horrific crash in Sochi four years ago in the men's sitting downhill, Walker found redemption with a historic giant slalom that saw him land a spot on the podium. He put up the top time in the first giant slalom run with a mark of 1:06.30, besting the field by 1.18 seconds. His time of 1:07.49 in the second run secured silver for Team USA, the fourth alpine skiing medal of the Games.
"It took so much work to get back to skiing fast again," Walker said. "It was a lot of years of trying to push past the mental boundaries that that experience put on me. I had to make my body strong again and then had to figure out how I work best as an athlete. It was a very difficult thing to do, but today it all worked out.
"I often wondered if it was worth it after that experience," he continued, speaking about the Sochi crash. "But this whole sport, and the places we go, the people we meet, make it such an awesome job. I love that part. That's what kept me going."
Walker also reflected on earning his first medal over four Paralympics.
"I don't know how to describe four Paralympics. Fifteen seasons. A whole lifetime of dreaming of this," he said. "It's hard to put that down into a single statement. It's unreal. A lot of hard work has been put into this. I've got amazing coaches and teammates that have gotten me through this whole process and have made it an amazing career.
"An athletic career has so many ups and downs, and I've been to the very bottom and to the very top," Walker continued. "It can be such a wild ride. If you want it badly enough, it will happen. It may take a really long time, but if you hang onto the right goals it can happen."
Walker continued his fine performance on Saturday, as he picked up a silver in the slalom.
"This week has been unreal for me. In the giant slalom, I got all my years of frustration and emotion out and this was a completely different experience. I just went and skied today and had fun, worried a whole lot less and just got to ski some slalom, which is a ton of fun to me. It still feels unreal, it's amazing. I can't believe this has happened again. I'm out of words – sorry," Walker said.
He also spoke to what he learned from his time in PyeongChang.
"Work really, really hard for a long time and have the right goals and surround yourself with the right people. You can accomplish whatever you want and you can come back from a horrible place. And when it finally works out, I've felt such a sense of pride and accomplishment that I didn't know I could feel," he said. "I'm sure when you finish homework assignments in school or when you finish college it's great, but 15 years of hard work, a whole lifetime of skiing finally paying off at the highest level, that sense of accomplishment? I had no idea what that felt like. It was unreal.
"You know you hear people, athletes having huge setbacks and coming back and it seems amazing on TV, or reading about it. But actually experiencing it for myself, I have a whole new realization of what that means. It's so much more than reading about it and thinking, 'Wow that's amazing.' Having over a decade of emotion rush back into you is so incredibly powerful and I'm a bit more collected today, but the other day was quite intense," Walker added.
He also addressed his future moving forward.
"Oh, that question. There's other stuff that I want to do in my life that isn't skiing-related and I have some ideas and those ideas are still mine for now, but I'll be working on them. I think I might need a break from ski racing for a while. I want to use my brain in different ways and just explore life outside of ski racing. That in a nutshell are my plans," he said.