On January 20, 2002, Army Specialist Kirk Black was out practicing on his motorcycle when he had a bad accident. He had raced motocross for many years and, as he put it, “had lots of accidents.” But this one was different. The retired helicopter mechanic broke his back, which resulted in becoming a T4 paraplegic.
Black realized he had no sensation and no balance. Nor did he know what he was going to be able to do. Given the limitations, he was homebound with his physical disability for the first year. “When you are able bodied, you don’t think about those things, particularly if you aren’t around it,” he said. Living in San Antonio, Black would eventually meet an outpatient sports therapist at the VA and that lit a spark.
Ultimately, Black would try a number of adaptive sports. He started curling in 2007 when he had the opportunity to try it out in Milwaukee. “I was there to compete in shotput, discuss, and javelin, but I placed third out of three… so it was done with me. He would go on to compete in other track and field events, including the Desert Challenge Games, Great Lakes Games and Endeavor Games in 2012 (all three events are hosted by chapters of Disabled Sports USA). “At all these events, they treat you like a rock star when you arrive. You are truly welcomed.” He would continue to participate in a couple of those competitions for the next two years. “I wanted to compete at a high level again,” he said. Black would also get into archery for three years through USA Archery’s program as well.
Fast forward seven years from the date when he first tried the sport of wheelchair curling. Right after the Paralympic games in Sochi in 2014, Black would be invited to a curling camp at Lake Placid. I felt like I would be missing out if I never tried.” The rest, of course, is history. He started competing at the highest level four years ago. “It is nice to compete together with athletes similar to me. We are one big family.”
Then comes along the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Leading up to the games, the team had only been together for about three or four months. But they had high expectations for the competition. “I saw the drive in my teammates and knew that I had to match it or better it.” Their finish wasn’t the outcome they were expecting. “It didn’t reflect our record… the stones didn’t roll our way,” he said. “But we either win or we learn.”
The Paralympic experience itself was amazing though. “Being from Texas, I’m familiar with southern hospitality. But South Korean hospitality was phenomenal. And as a former member of the military, it is nice to compete with other countries this way.”
Black teaches curling to others as well, including at the VA Winter Sports Clinic. “My mom was a teacher,” he said. I like to help people understand something, see them smile and enjoy it.” He is delighted to see the growth the sport has had over the past several years. “Curling in the U.S. is at its all-time highest as more people learn of the sport. It is something you can do at all ages.”
In addition to his participation in adaptive sorts, Black teaches for a company, Knowability based in Austin, Texas, which makes documents accessible for visually impaired individuals. He is not sure what the future will hold for him with curling. “For some of the other national teams, their countries pay them to curl, for their travel expenses, etc.,” he said. So being able to focus on being an elite athlete poses some challenges.