Tyler Walker is taking on the world ... and taking home medals
FRANCONIA -- Famous as the home of World Cup and Olympic champion Bode Miller, this small town in the White Mountains and its Cannon Mountain Ski Area have another native son to celebrate: Tyler Walker, who earlier this week won the overall championship in the men's sitting class at the International Paralympic Committee Alpine World Cup Final in Tarvisio, Italy.
On the way to winning the overall title, Walker, 27, achieved discipline wins in speed and slalom, and took third place in the giant slalom, emerging as a standout performer in the final World Cup event before the Paralympic Winter Games in Russia March 7-16.
"It feels amazing to win the overall world cup title," Walker, a 2004 graduate of Bethlehem's Profile High School and 2008 graduate of the University of New Hampshire, said in an e-mail Thursday afternoon.
"A lifetime of work went into this achievement, and I finally had the right combination of equipment, technique and coaching to pull it off. The support from my family, friends, supporters and sponsors was also crucial, and I could not ski without them."
Walker described himself as "very confident" heading into the Paralympic Games, which, like their recent predecessor for fully able athletes, will be based in Sochi, with the skiing events taking place at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center in Krasnaya Polyana.
"My equipment, technique and mental state are where they need to be," he said.
Joining Walker in Sochi will be fellow Granite Staters Chris Devlin-Young of Campton, a fifth-time Paralympian and four-time medal winner in Alpine skiing, and Taylor Chace of Hampton Falls, a third-time Parlympics sled hockey player who won bronze at Torino and gold at Vancouver.
A third-time Paralympian — he competed at Torino in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010 — Walker is seeking his first Paralympics medal. Nevertheless, he said, he's not placing greater emphasis on the Games than he has on other international competitions.
"It is also just one more group of races that happen to take place every four years," he said. "Anything can happen, and it doesn't always matter who was the most prepared at the moment. You could hit a patch of ice at just the wrong angle and your day is over immediately. I am going to give everything I have, but I also need to think realistically."
According to his biography at www.teamusa.org, Walker was born with lumbar sacral agenesis, a condition that left him without a spine below the first vertebra. At 4, because he had no control over his legs, doctors amputated them at the knees.
Using adaptive equipment, he first took to the slopes at Waterville Valley and Loon Mountain in Lincoln, and eventually joined the New England Disabled Ski Team. He also took up other sports — handcycling, skateboarding, canoeing, tennis, hockey — while maintaining his studies. At UNH, he earned degrees in geography and international affairs while carrying minors in German and political science.
Walker, who uses a mono-ski, had his break-through year in 2005, when he finished second overall in the World Cup standings for the giant slalom. He improved on that with a first-place finish in 2006, the year in which he made his Paralympic debut. He's since won multiple national and international titles and earned three X-Games gold medals.
Though he now lives and trains in Aspen, Colo., Walker said he remains a Granite Stater through and through.
"Cannon Mountain is still my favorite ski area," he said. "I have been all around the world, but no place has the same character. The people in Franconia are awesome and have given me a ton of support."