Q & A with the 13X Paralympic Medalist
Chris Waddell is a former member of the U.S. Paralympics Alpine National Team. With 13 Paralympic medals, he became the most decorated male monoskier in history. He has competed in four Winter Paralympics and three Summer Paralympics Games. Chris was inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Paralympics Hall of Fame. He was interviewed by Blake Eaton, a member of the Disabled Sports USA’s E-Team. The interview took place in December 2017 at the 30th annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Chris: T-10/11 Para.
Blake: Was it an accident?
Chris: Yes, it was a skiing accident. I was a ski racer in college, it was my first day of Christmas vacation. I went home, just warming up and took a couple runs. Ski popped off in the middle of a turn, and that was it. I fell in the middle of the trail, and didn’t hit anything but the ground. Broke two vertebrae, a couple ribs, collar bone, that kind of stuff…concussion. So, I must have fallen pretty hard, but I don’t remember the fall.
Blake: I heard you were on the National Team. Can you give me an experience from that?
Chris: I was on the National Team for 11 years or so. So from 1991 to 2002, and the experiences of being on the National Team, there were a lot of them. This was always our first race; we used to race here at Breckenridge. We used to race over on Peak 10, which was a big long GS. That was one of my first experiences. Coming out and getting the uniform, feeling like you’re fully on the team, and then trying to figure out how to produce there. The experience was about, one, getting to the team, and then trying to figure out how to get to the top of the world; try to beat everybody. Each day in training was a competition, as well, because we had a lot of the best people in the world.
Blake: What kind of training regimen did you do when you were on the National Team?
Chris: I raced wheelchairs and I ski raced, so racing wheelchairs was really helpful in getting fit for the ski season. I would still go and train on-snow. I’d do some free skiing on snow, because a lot of that was actually the stuff that was so beneficial for me. Going out and skiing bumps, and doing different things was really very helpful for my balance. So, I did a fair amount of that, but then I would generally go straight to the gym on my way home. Often times, I’d either go to the gym or I’d get on my roller and train in my racing chair when I got home. So, it was a full time deal where I was on snow and then in the gym and on the racing chair.
Blake: What’s your biggest fear?
Chris: Air was probably my biggest fear…I was not very good in the air, and so it was my biggest fear. We use to have a downhill training camp every year in Durango at Purgatory. It was kind of like, you came out of the start, you had two gates, you had air, you had one turn, then there was another air; it was just air the whole time. We did time trials during that and it was just like a race; we had full bibs and everything. And there was this one place, I didn’t think that there was much air, but I flew for like 40 feet off of this thing. I was in the air, sort of rolling the windows down, hoping it landed. I don’t think the coaches thought that…I was the one who was the worst in the air. All these other guys, there was a big course hold after I went, and they were all talking it over, like, “Oh! Should we do something differently?” Eventually, they ended up running, but I was like, “Really? You just sent me as the guinea pig?”
Blake: How did you get into monosking?
Chris: I was a ski racer. I started ski racing when I was 6 years old. So, I was racing in college, and my coach in college was out at Mt. Hood coaching a development program. At Mt. Hood it’s sort of like you have a bunch of different lanes, and it’s all wide open, so one team is skiing in this lane, and then another team…and so, his group was skiing next to the disabled team, and all the monoskiers were out there. He said, “This is great!” Actually, one of his former athletes was a coach for the disabled team, as well. And he said, “You gotta do this.” They were really helpful; they bought my first monoski for me. I stayed part of the team and did a bunch of the college races, and actually made the US team while I was still in school. Then graduated, and went to Albertville. That was my first Winter Games…first Games at all.
Blake: Have you ever medaled/podiumed?
Chris: Yes! I have won 5 gold, 6 silver, 2 bronze. I swept all four events in Lillehammer, so Slalom, GS, Super G, and Downhill. One of my greatest victories in that respect was, I’m an LW-10, so I’m the highest level group, and in Lillehammer in the Downhill I beat all of the monoskiers; I was the fastest monoskier that day. So, at least on one day, I was the best in the world.
Blake: What kind of hills did you do when you were training? Where did you train?
Chris: When I first started, I was at the Middlebury Snow Bowl, which is where I was skiing in college. Trained with the team. Then when I graduated, I went out to Winter Park for a little bit, so I split time at Winter Park. And then the next year, I moved out to Vail, and I was in Vail for about 5 years. One of my coaches, Mike Brown, was based in Vail, so I trained with him. And then in ’99, I ended up moving to Park City, and I’ve lived in Park City since then. Trained with the NAC (National Abilities Center, which is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA) and with the Master’s Program at Park City.
Blake: What sort of message would you give to young skiers like me, if they’re wanting to do what you’ve done?
Chris: First of all, love what you’re doing. Be willing to work hard. Be patient, because it doesn’t happen overnight. You need to keep plugging away every single day, and it really is about showing up committed to making a change every day. The patience to realize that it’s going to get better. That is it. Generally, the harder you work, the more successful you’re going to be.