Paralympian gold medalist joins STARS as program coordinator
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The first time Noah Elliott came to Steamboat Springs, the Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports — STARS — program changed his life.
At the time, he was a teenager battling osteosarcoma bone cancer in his left leg. Now, he’s a gold medal Paralympic snowboarder, keynote speaker and a father to a 6-year-old daughter.
Having experienced more than most 22-year-olds, Elliott returned to Steamboat last month to work as the program coordinator with STARS in hopes of changing someone else’s life.
“I want to give back what I was given and help people experience the life-changing opportunity that shows them they are more capable than what they thought and shows them that somebody believes in them,” Elliott said.
As program and outreach coordinator, Elliott will be teaching lessons to participants in the summer and winter.
“Noah, to me, is what our mission is all about,” said STARS Executive Director Julie Taulman. “Noah started in the program as a participant in our Kids with Cancer program. He came back as a mentor, and then he went on to become a Paralympian. … Noah exemplifies what we’re trying to achieve in our program.”
When Elliott was diagnosed with cancer, he was already a semi-professional skateboarder. He came out to Steamboat in 2014 with the Sunshine Kids, a national program that brings quality of life to kids with cancer. He wanted to snowboard, but because of the treatment he had been receiving at the time, he wasn’t able to use his left leg, so he was sent down the mountain on a ski bike.
“I remember being in one of the buses and looking out at the mountains,” Elliott said. “I couldn’t stop smiling because I was in Steamboat Springs, and it was my first time ever seeing the mountains. They were so breathtaking that I couldn’t help my excitement.”
Road to gold
After he returned home to St. Louis, Missouri, he learned he needed another surgery.
“When I was 17 years old, I decided to amputate my left leg, so that I could pursue this dream of learning how to snowboard,” he said.
After that, he returned to Steamboat and the STARS program and, for the first time ever, got on a snowboard using a prosthetic. After two days, it was settled: He wanted to snowboard. Elliott reached out to former Olympian Erin Nemec, who he met in Steamboat, to ask for advice on what to do next.
“She gave me that self-belief that I could really do it,” Elliott said. “Her seeing my potential really gave me that spark to initiate what I wanted to become.”
He was encouraged to move to Park City, Utah, to train. After working two jobs and taking on keynote speaking to raise enough money, he moved to Utah.
A year and a half later, he was named to the Paralympic Snowboarding Team and traveled to PyeongChang, South Korea, to compete in the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games.
When he returned to Park City, he brought home two medals: a gold and a bronze. He earned bronze in snowboard cross, but he stood on top of the podium four days later after a first place finish in men’s banked slalom.
“That year and a half leading into that was something that felt like the longest road. When I first started snowboarding, I remember having this drive and this feeling I was really channeling something deep down in myself that I couldn’t wait for the day to come,” he said. “All the people around me were telling me, ‘he just started snowboarding, he has a few years, he won’t make this games. He has potential for Beijing 2022.’ At the end of the day, there was something in me that believed and had that drive to make that happen.”
Sharing his story
His success in the sport didn’t stop there, though. In March, he competed in the 2019 World Para Snowboarding Championships in Piya, Finland, where he won the snowboard cross event and took second in banked slalom.
He’s even up for USA’s Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year and is one of five finalists who will fly to Universal Studios in Los Angeles for the award ceremony Tuesday, Nov. 19.
He has big plans for his position at STARS, referring to a list of 76 programs around the country he hopes to invite to Steamboat. Once the STARS Ranch opens, he wants to give as many kids around the country a chance at the same experience he had but in an accessible venue.
“Rolling into a shower is game-changing for somebody in a chair,” he said.
Elliott said the world is slowly starting to realize the importance of accessibility to people with disabilities. He wants to play a role in encouraging more inclusion in everyday tasks and help those people find independence, as he did.
He’ll still be competing in the World Cup circuit and training for the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing, something the STARS staff fully supports.
“We have worked a very flexible schedule, so he can attain his goals as well as be employed by STARS,” Taulman said. “He really embodies the mission, so when he’s out there on the circuit, he’s still representing STARS. We hope he goes on and brings home gold, again.”
Elliott is a keynote speaker and will spread the message about STARS on the road.
“I learned that my story can help change other people’s lives,” Elliott said.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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