Steamboat will likely have representation at the Paralympic Games
After the closing ceremonies of Beijing 2022 conclude, the Olympic flame is doused, and the athletes return to their home countries, a new wave of competitors will enter the Olympic Village.
The 2022 Paralympic Games are scheduled to begin March 4 and conclude March 13. It’s likely there will be at least one athlete with ties to Steamboat Springs competing.
When Noah Elliott went to his first Paralympics in 2018, he had a very loose connection to Steamboat. Now, he lives in the Yampa Valley and works at Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports, STARS, the program that introduced him to athletics again after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma bone cancer in his left leg.
After deciding to have his leg amputated, he returned to STARS to snowboard with a prosthetic for the first time. He knew right away he wanted to pursue the sport, a natural transition from his semi-professional skateboarding career, which he was working on before his diagnosis.
Elliott moved to Park City, Utah, where he started training. A year and half later, he was named to the National Paralympic Snowboarding Team and competed in PyeongChang, where he won gold in banked slalom and bronze in snowboard cross.
Elliott, 24, said getting back to the Paralympics would mean the world to him.
“For me personally, it’s an opportunity for me to prove to myself that I can do it and that I’m still one of the best in the world,” he said. “As of right now, nothing has slowed down showing me otherwise, but it’s something I really want to accomplish and go back and do and share that moment with my daughter, now that she’s a little older.”
Elliott’s daughter, Skylar, is now 8, which is plenty old enough to understand that the Olympics and Paralympics showcase the best athletes in the world. He said it’ll be extremely difficult to leave her while he competes this winter, but she’s also motivating him to do well.
“That gives me motivation when I’m over there to do better so that sacrifice is used for the right reason,” he said.
Four years later, he’s a favorite to not only return to the Paralympic Games but medal. Based on the November 2021 World Para Snowboard Rankings, Elliott is third in the snowboard cross among participants with a single, above-the-knee amputation or SBLL-1. He’s also fifth in banked slalom.
“I feel good about it for sure. I feel really good about it,” Elliott said. “Especially after our World Cups that we went to last year, I got first and second. I feel really confident going into this season.”
According to the U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding Athlete Selection Procedures, in order to earn a spot on the team, Elliott has to earn two top-two finishes at a World Para Snowboard World Cup event ahead of Feb. 14, 2022. Athletes nominated to the team based on that criteria will start in each event in which they qualified through said criteria. So, if Elliott wins twice in both banked slalom and snowboard cross, he’ll start in both events in Beijing.
If he fails to meet that criteria, and there are open slots after naming all who met that criteria, Elliott could be named through discretionary selection. The team will be announced Feb. 16.
That process begins in Landgraff, Netherlands, where there is an indoor facility in which a banked slalom course is built. He’ll compete there the weekend after Thanksgiving, then travel to Finland, where he’ll compete in snowboard cross. Banked slalom and snowboard cross are the only available disciplines for para snowboarders.
Elliott is on a brand new prosthetic, which has slightly different shocks and a different “knee,” but he’s had time to get used to the new leg, so he should be in a great position to utilize its capabilities.
“It takes a lot of willingness to be OK with it not working to figure out where you actually like to ride it at because it’s different,” Elliott said. “It’s really just trying it, and trial and error over and over.”
Paige VanArsdale, a Steamboat-born para Alpine skier, isn’t yet on the National Team but competes with the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. The 22-year-old is a standing skier, one of three categories in Paralympic skiing. There are also sitting skiers and visually impaired skiers. VanArsdale stands, but her cerebral palsy challenges her reaction time and stability.
In order to make the National ‘B’ Team, she has to have fewer than 150 points in the World Para Alpine Skiing Standings. She’s closest in slalom, with 401.4 points. With each top finish in a competitive race, points go down.
She has her work cut out for her to make the Paralympic squad, so she’s keeping her goals short term for now. The week of Thanksgiving, she’ll compete at a North American Cup race in Panorama, Canada. If all goes well, she could go to Europe after that.
She’s been training at Mammoth Mountain in California to prepare for the upcoming winter schedule.
“Just have a good mindset and train with a good mindset,” VanArsdale said. “My major goal is the Paralympics, but I’m trying to focus on the training leading up to the Paralympics and Canada and all the other races after that.”
VanArsdale recently announced on Facebook she’s been sponsored by Steamboat Resort. She promotes the resort, while the resort promotes her, creating a circle of publicity that both hope to benefit from.
VanArsdale hopes the partnership results in getting her name and face into the world and draws more support from others and promotes para-athletes.
Whether she makes the national team or the Paralympics, Van Arsdale just hopes she can inspire younger kids with disabilities to never give up on their dreams.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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