VAIL - Vail skier Martin Cupka got some exciting news this week: He found out he qualified for the Paralympics.
"I don't even know how to describe it," he said. "You're working all these years for this news. I had tears in my eyes, honestly."
Cupka, 33, will be competing for Slovakian team next month in the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Slovakian citizen has been living in Vail for 11 years, where he trains on the Golden Peak racecourse.
Cupka said he had been competing on Slovakia's junior national skiing team before he injured his hand. At 16, he lost four fingers on his right hand in a table saw accident. He stopped skiing for a few years after that but decided to get back on the hill.
"I love skiing," he said. "I was skiing since I was 2 years old. When you grow up doing something, it's hard to just give it up."
His dedication paid off.
Cupka will compete in four events at the Paralympics: downhill skiing, super G, super combined and giant slalom. While earning a medal is every Paralympic athlete's dream, Cupka said he's focusing on a broader goal.
"I'd like to be in the top 10," he said.
Looking ahead to the events, Cupka said his biggest strength is skiing fast.
"I'm not afraid of speed," he said.
Slalom has always been more of a challenge for Cupka. Because he skis with one pole, Cupka said he rotates his body to make the turns, which can make balancing trickier.
As he hits the racecourse at Whistler next month, one thought in particular promises to keep him going.
"My parents," he said. "It's probably going to be my last Paralympics and I'd like to make them proud of me."
Cupka said his parents live in Slovakia and are retired from the newspaper business.
Here in Vail, Cupka works two jobs to support his dream. He's a ski tuner at Vista Bahn Ski Rentals in the winter and a painter in the summer.
This spring will mark Cupka's third trip to the Paralympics. He competed in the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan, and finished sixth in the men's downhill event at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Cupka trains on Golden Peak with coaches Bill Gooch and Rika Moore from the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.
Gooch said he was excitied for Cupka when he found out he qualified for the Paralympics.
"I think he's going to ski his heart out, so that's what's important, that he just puts it all out there and lays it all out on the hill for his race runs," Gooch said.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.