This past year, Thomas Wilson’s life has taken a 360 spin and it’s all because of snowboarding. Wilson is an 18-year-old from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, who was born with an uncommon condition called Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD), which resulted in an above-knee amputation of his right leg at a very young age. His parents encouraged him to participate in various sports as a child, but his first serious sport and the one he felt he could do well in was swimming. By the summer of sixth grade he was actively competing in the sport.
Flash forward to his senior year of high school and Wilson was swimming and participating in Paralympic swim meets across the country. At that time, Wilson had sights on attending and swimming for the University of Colorado and training at the Colorado Springs Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. Then two years ago Wilson was introduced to competitive snowboarding. To Wilson, competitive snowboarding just sounded like something that would be fun. “I kind of just went for it,” he said. Wilson first started with two local USSA Snowboarding races and went on to the USSA Nationals in Copper, Colorado.
It wasn’t until 2018 that his passion and dedication for snowboarding ignited. “It was around Ski Spec I started to heavily consider the sport.” Wilson received an Ability Equipped grant and attended Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, CO. Although Wilson fell in love with snowboarding and the racing aspect of the sport, he was not confident that he could follow through and make plans surrounding the sport without the right equipment.
Not having the right equipment hinged Wilson’s ability to fully succeed in snowboarding. Winning the grant, Wilson says, gave him that extra push needed to focus on competing and start taking the sport more seriously. “That was when I realized I had the potential to possibly make the Paralympic snowboard team.” Wilson explained that by having the right equipment needed for racing encouraged him to compete more and work harder. The equipment that Wilson uses for racing is the Moto Knee and Versa Foot by Bio-Dapt and a Donek raceboard.
Having the proper equipment, Wilson decided to go on and participate in the Nor-Am race at Big White, in Canada. “I think that getting that grant really inspired me to go after the Nor-Am circuit, because after that I had a raceboard and new bindings, and I had the equipment I needed to race.” The Big White event was Wilson’s first Paralympic snowboarding event. “Just going to the race and being there was a huge accomplishment for me, and to be classified at that race was super important.” The Big White was Wilson’s fourth career race, but he explained that in reality it was his first real race, as he had never experienced a course as official as the Big White Nor-Am.
Wilson is looking forward to participating in more Nor-Am races this season with two more domestic Nor-Am races in the United States.” He is hoping to attend these events and then possibly make it to a World Cup race. “You gain points in the Nor-Am circuit in order to qualify for the World Cup circuit, so I’m working towards qualifying.” While that is Wilson’s short-term goal, his long-term goal is to make it onto the team for the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing.
To prepare for these goals, Wilson has to make sure to stay physically strong. A majority of Wilson’s current training is through bike riding and dry land training. His focus is strengthening his legs and core, while also working on balance. This season’s training will be different for Wilson. “This year it will be a lot more intensive as I will be training with the National Ability Center (NAC) in Park City, Utah, on their elite snowboard team.” The NAC, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, played a big role in teaching Wilson the snowboarding basics when he was first starting out. Along with this season training, Wilson is currently attending his first year of college at the University of Utah, a school that has recognized him as an athlete in training for the Paralympics through the NAC.