Q & A with Paralympic Medalist Chris Young

Chris Young is a former member of the U.S. Paralympics Alpine National Team. He competed in five Winter Paralympics from 1994 to 2014, winning two gold medals and two silver. He was interviewed by Sean Stern, a member of the Disabled Sports USA’s E-Team. The interview took place in December 2017 at the 30th annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Sean: How did you get into adaptive sports?

Chris: Well Sean I was introduced in the hospital when I was in the rehab in Palo Alto, California by the Veteran’s Administration.

Sean: What was your injury like?

Chris: I served in the U.S. Coast Guard and was in a C-130 airplane crash while up in Alaska and it severed my spinal cord. It made me a paraplegic.

Sean: How did you perform at the Olympics?

Chris: So I have been an alpine ski racer ever since I found adaptive sports and for me snow skiing was the sport. I played basketball, racquetball, tennis, and I handcycle, swim, and kayak and I do all these other things, but none of them compare to snow skiing. For me, I got into competition through snow skiing and took that competition to the highest level.

Sean: Where do you live?

Chris: I live on the east coast in Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, which is kinda crazy because I’m a skier and live right next to the ocean

Sean: How do you train for alpine skiing?

Chris: Training for alpine skiing is every single day. I trained whether I was in the gym, whether I was on the snow, or whether I was what’s called cross-training with a different sport, say like ice hockey or wheelchair basketball or something like that. I trained every single day, some of those days were lifting weights and riding a bike and cardiovascular and some of those training days were on the hills ski racing and going fast, and some of those days were spent meditating and using my mind to help my mind overcome my body and my body be the perfect ski racing instrument.

Sean: What advice would you like to give me?

Chris: My best advice to you would be – never give up. No matter how many times you fall, no matter how many times what you try doesn’t work, it’s gonna work and every time is success whether you fall or not, because there’s so many people that don’t try at all and for us with disabilities we have something extra. For me in a wheelchair, I have the extra added bonus of having to crawl up stairs because my wheelchair won’t go upstairs. So for me it’s a challenge instead of an obstacle, I like to take every moment and every chance I get to try and never give up.

Sean: What did you enjoy about the Paralympics?

Chris: Oh my goodness, I have been to five Paralympics and I won two gold medals and two silver medals and I got lots of fourth places and for me the most fun about the Paralympics was the competition. The people that were there were the same people that I had raced against all year long, but we were at the Games and this was the big race and I liked the challenge of the big race and I found that really fun.

Sean: What about the idea of competition?

Chris: For me, the idea of competition is intrinsic in my soul. I don’t know how else to describe it, I am a competitive person and that has done really good for me and sometimes not done really good for me because I have a hard time not being competitive. So ski racing, and my sport, has allowed me to focus that competition and focus that energy into the race rather than into something that doesn’t need it.

Sean: How has the sport change from then to now?

Chris: Oh my goodness. When we first started skiing here in the United States we started on sit skis, before monoskis were invented, so no shock absorber and no suspension. We had a sled that sat right on the snow and we used little tiny picks in our hand to drag into the snow to try to make a turn. Now with my monoski, the shock absorber is made by the Formula One racing department at Penske Racing Shop. So we’ve come so far, the technology is so good that it’s been a real treat to witness all of this change that has happened. It makes it easier, the new technology, for more people to become involved in the sport of alpine skiing, which is not an easy sport to start with.

Sean: What else do you like to do?

Chris: I am a fisherman, I love to go fishing. I fly fish, deep sea fish, sword fish in the waves, and I go out in a little kayak and I have a little tiny boat as well and I go out in that. I haven’t gone ice fishing yet, but I’d like to go fish through the ice- I think that would be pretty fun too.

Sean: Do you have any pets?

Chris: I do have pets, I have one cat and one bird. The cat is Dory named for Dumbledore the bird’s name is Abby. The bird is new to me- it’s my partner’s bird and he has been around for 14 years and he will live for approximately 45 years. He talks all the time

Sean: Is he a parrot?

Chris: He’s a parrot and he says ‘Hello’, he says ‘Pretty bird’, he says ‘how you doin’’, he says ‘come over here’, and a whole bunch of other things.

Sean: Is there anything else you’d like to tell that we didn’t get to talk about?

Chris: The sport for anybody is such a great avenue to stay healthy. I know for myself with a disability, and I’m now 35 years in a wheelchair since the accident, I deal with a lot of health problems and because I compete in sport, because I participate in sport, I stay a lot healthier because my body is stronger and my heart is healthy and my lungs are healthy, and it helps me eat right and I’m a stronger person and a happier person because of it.