All the athletes who qualify for the Paralympics have overcome obstacles to excel at their sports, but perhaps none more so than Army veteran Joel Hunt, who was named to the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Ski Team on Wednesday. Joel Warner profiled Hunt’s quest to make the team last year for Westword, writing, “during his three Iraq deployments, Hunt was exposed to more than 100 improvised explosive-device blasts, explosions that left him with a traumatic brain injury that, among other things, has slowly paralyzed his left leg.” Hunt had to use a wheelchair to get around after his 2007 discharge, and PTSD hit him hard—in a speech he often gives about his story, he says there were times he “wished that I had died in Iraq rather than face the difficulties of my situation.”
But then in 2008, when his health had been deteriorating for years, his parents encouraged him to attend a three-day event in Breckenridge, Colo. to help vets with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) learn to ski. Hunt had begun to leave his wheelchair for walks, and although he was skeptical about skiing, when he tried it, it appealed to him immediately. “Hold on,” Hunt told Warner he remembers thinking, “This is like roller skating.” Operation TBI Freedom bought him a ski pass, and Hunt skied 125 times that winter.
The next winter, Hunt began training at the National Sports Center for the Disabled’s program at Winter Park. The Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Operation Rebound donated the $3500 fee required to participate. Hunt kept at it, improving at ski racing year by year, and in 2013 he qualified for the Paralympic Alpine Development Program in Aspen.
Even with a paralyzed left leg and double vision, Hunt can speed down the slopes, and now he will be the first Paralympic skier with a TBI. He’ll join three other veterans on the Paralympic Alpine Ski Team: Army veteran Heath Calhoun, Coast Guard Veteran Chris Devlin-Young, and Marine Corps veteran Jon Lujan. These vets will head to Sochi to compete at the Paralympic Winter Games from March 7 through 16, offering ski racing fans plenty to cheer about.