Getting Involved in Adaptive Sports

Aaron-Pike-300x214After being involved in a hunting accident at age 13, Aaron Pike woke up to a spinal cord injury and a new reality, but thanks to a happy coincidence he was able to get reacquainted with sport quickly.

“While I was in the hospital Carlos Moleda, who lived in the area, came to visit. He’d just won like the past two Ironmans. Until then I had no clue that there was any kind of adaptive sports, but I got to see what was out there. Pretty soon after I was out of the hospital I went and jumped on the track and started playing basketball as well.”

While Aaron tried a number of sports, he most enjoyed and excelled in those that were individual pursuits.

“I liked the fact that it was completely on me. I knew my goals and it was very straightforward. If you’re the best guy, you’re going to win. Period.”

Wearing Red, White & Blue

Aaron competed in his first Paralympics in the 2012 London Games.

“The goal there was just making the team. Our coaches sat down with us and told us ‘You’ve got to enjoy the experience and take it all in. Remember as much as you can. And that’s what I tried to do. Getting that Team USA gear. Not racing just for yourself, but for your country and your teammates. It is hard to describe that experience.”

“London was unique in that you were racing in front of 80,000 people. It was so loud in there you couldn’t even hear yourself think.”

Making a Change

After coming home from the London Paralympics, Aaron was invited to a Nordic development camp and he accepted, not knowing what to expect.

“I’d been competing in track for five years, and it was like taking a break without taking a break from working out. There was just no better timing for me. I was surprised at just how much fun I was having. With track at that point it was all about numbers, but now everything was new again. I didn’t know if I was doing it right or wrong, but I was learning something new.”

The environment appealed to him as well.

“It is a sport where you’re just out climbing in the mountains. I could get places I’d never get with my everyday wheelchair.”

Competing at Sochi

After just two years of competing in Nordic, Aaron made the 2014 team to compete in Sochi. He used his experience in London to his advantage during both the competition and time with his teammates.

“I already knew what was out in front of me. It wasn’t nearly as intimidating. It was a much smaller group and felt a little bit more close knit. All of us on the team got along and we had a great team dynamic. We were all there cheering each other on, competing against these powerhouses in Russia and Norway. There were also just so many new athletes on the team, it made for a great dynamic.”

Training in Champaign, Illinois

One of the newest Paralympic training sites, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has long been known for producing top-level adaptive athletes.

“When I first got here I just went nuts. I just learned so much so fast. If you’re going to get better you’re going to be here. You constantly have somebody to gauge yourself against. A hard practice becomes a competition and you can’t help but get faster.”

Following His Lead

USA's Aaron Pike competes in the Men's 15km Sitting Cross-Country Skiing event during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center in Sochi, Russia on on March 9, 2014. Pike, a Park Rapids, Minn., native, will compete in the 2015 International Paralymic Committee Nordic Skiing World Championships starting Jan. 24 in Cable, Wis. (Getty Images: Ronald Martinez)Aaron’s advice for up and coming athletes is two-fold, first try out a variety of things to see what piques your interest and then get creative in your approach to training.

“Trying everything is important. Knowing that there are sports that even if you aren’t at the highest levels there are tons of events you can compete in even without being a Paralympic athlete.”

But once you pick a sport, “you should make the effort. Nordic is a very unique sport where you have to get to the snow, but there are so many ways to train in dryland by using a ski erg or a mountain board that you can really train anywhere.”