ASPEN, Colo. -- Kevin Connolly was born without legs. Tyler Walker's were amputated when he was four years old. Chris Devlin-Young lost the use of his legs at age 21 in a Coast Guard plane crash. Sam Ferguson was paralyzed in a mountain biking accident in Basalt. Kevin Bramble broke his back snowboarding off a cliff in Tahoe; K-J van der Klooster when snowboarding in Port du Soleil, France.
Where there's an athlete there's a story in the Mono-Skier X competition.
While their stories aren't what got these athletes into the X Games, it's their stories that I can't help but want to hear. Records of sporting events are almost never without human back story. ESPN wouldn't need eight networks, a website, magazine and radio station if only to churn out box scores.
But there is more to competitors, coaches and referees than on-field output. And story telling is a universal part of what makes us human. We are curious, interested -- engrossed in the stories we hear, and encased by the stories we tell.
The competitors in Mono-Skier X want to be seen as athletes. People who train their bodies and minds for competition are athletes. Athletes whose stories inspire us are something more. Make no mistake, when I see mono-skiers hurdling down a course, I'm completely aware of their athletic ability. But try as I may to put their story aside, it is bigger than I am.
Inherent in our consciousness is the impulse to make something of what we see. What I saw in these adaptive athletes was more than a boxscore. This is their story . . .
Neil Duncan stood beside the finish line of the Mono-Skier X course watching the time trials. Growing up in Savage, Minnesota, Neil had skied his whole life. Until 2005, when his truck was blown up while serving as a paratrooper in Afghanistan. Six days later he woke up in a hospital room in Washington, D.C. without his legs. Today, he lives in Colorado and trains five days a week with the Challenge Aspen race team -- the mountain's adaptive athletics program.
"Trevair The Wheelchair Extraordinaire" is a T-12 para on account of a snowboarding wreck, but was not emotionally derailed by the accident. "I was doing what I loved," he says. "I had not peaked at the time I was hurt, so the drive never died. I started riding downhill wheelchairs and then designed a new style four-wheel-bike. I once jumped two Cadillacs on a stunt. I'm having fun."
K-J van der Klooster is the only competitor to make the trek across the pond from his homebase in Lago di Veere, Holland. He was also the only mono-competitor to run the meat right off the monster booter of the cross course. In doing so, he snapped his ski upon crashing and tumbling over the finish line, but he moved on to the next round and scored all the glory. He says that if he had his legs back for one day he would, "go cycling with my girl on the back of my bike."
Claiming just about every competition on record, defending X Games gold-medalist, Tyler Walker, is effectively the face of sit-ski. But what's more impressive than his trophy collection is the fact that he flew to Aspen from his home in New Hampshire, the day after he landed from two weeks in Qatar. He made the trek to the Arabian Peninsula because he was asked to, by a Qatarian family who had read his story and wanted him to teach disability awareness to their five year old son and other similary afflicted folks.
Montana State University student Kevin Connolly took home the mono silver medal and a chunk of change for his efforts in the 2007 Winter X Games. With the cash, he traveled the world and shot photos from his perspective -- the one from his skateboard. That he rides without legs. What ensued was an award-winning photo collection known as "The Rolling Exhibition" which depicts reactions like this one, to his unique stature.
Now he is an athlete and businessman designing the industry standard in sit-ski equipment. But in 1994, in South Lake Tahoe, Kevin Bramble stood at the top of a cliff while his buddy Ken looked on from below. Bramble noticed that the snow cover seemed thin. When he shouted down to assess the conditions, Ken's response of "No! No!" sounded like "Go! Go!" Bramble hit rocks on the way off the cliff; swan dived, and landed with he legs over his head like a scorpion. "That was that," he says.
After a day of competition, beyond the finish line, the Mono athletes could be found at the base of the mountain exchanging handshakes. And telling stories.
Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist and EXPN.com contributor. Check out her full archive.