Local Paralympic hopeful working hard on his mark
AVON – In the world of elite alpine skiing, there aren’t many one-legged African-Americans. That’s OK with Ralph Green, who prides himself on being different. Besides, when it comes down to it, Green says, these are moot points anyway.”How many black people there are, how many white people, that’s not a big topic for me,” said Green, 28. “I have a job. My job is to ski race. I get up in the morning. I go train during the winter. I’m not too focused on what color the guy is who’s sitting next to me on the chair lift.”Green, who now lives in Edwards, lost his leg in 1993. He and a friend were walking on the streets of New York City when both were shot in the back at random. Green’s friend was out of the hospital in two weeks. Green was in for eight months, during which time he had 28 different operations, spent around $1.3 million, and underwent the amputation of his left leg.Bullet in the back”The bullet went in my back, hit a branch of my aorta, ricocheted off my pelvis and went into my intestines,” Green said, adding that the man who shot him is still in jail and that the anger he initially felt towards him has evolved into pity.
“My friend and I were able to identify him. He was caught for shooting someone else,” Green said. “If you get shot, you’re not going to forget the face of your shooter if you get a chance to see him. I wasn’t the first person or the last person that he shot. Of course, at first I had a lot of rage towards him; not towards life and what I’m doing, but towards him. I had no idea why I was shot. I found out later that his parents were on drugs. He had no guidance. He was a menace to society; a lost soul. I feel sorry for him.”Green said the hardest part about the entire incident was waking up in the hospital to see such agony on the faces of his mother and sister. Otherwise, he felt strong and had a positive attitude about his recovery. When he was given a chance to try skiing for the first time on a three track (one ski and poles with mini-skis at the ends), he said the speed and freedom he felt allowed him to forget he was moving on one leg. From there, a ski racer was born.The course is setGreen became the first African-American man to join the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team in 2002. Last season, he was ranked No. 12 in the world in slalom. This season, he is working on getting his speed events up to par, and hopes to represent the United States in the Paralympics in Torino, Italy, this March.”One of the most influential statements that I’ve ever heard was from my grandmother, who has never seen me ski,” Green said. “She was like, ‘Ralph, you’re already a champion. Get out there, have fun, and enjoy every single day.’ Those are words of inspiration. It took me a while to actually realize what she was saying. It took me a while to dial it in. But that’s the way I look at it when someone goes to the Olympics or the Paralympics. Me, of course, I’m going to get busy. I’m going to the Paralympics and compete at the highest level and compete to the best of my ability.”Green works 20 hours per week at the Home Depot in Avon, a company that sponsors Paralympic and Olympic athletes and hopefuls. He can also be seen in several magazines and posters throughout the country promoting some of his other sponsors like Subaru and Coca-Cola. He is on a mission to “become a household name.”
He trains almost every day at the Cascade Club in Vail and has already begun his on-snow training, having recently returned to the valley from a trip with the U.S. Disabled Team to Hintertux, Austria, which was capped off with one day of watching the men’s U.S. World Cup giant slalom race in Soelden. Green spends a lot of time studying the aerodynamics of able-bodied World Cup skiers.”I study a lot of video,” he said. “When I say study, I mean I’m pretty detailed about it. Some days, I’ll just look at their heads. Some days I’ll just look at their arms. Some days, I’ll look at their skis, their waists, their poles. I break it down. The year I made the team, I spent the whole summer looking at one tape – the 1999-2000 World Cup winning runs.”Green has also learned a lot from his teammates and former teammates, such as 14-year Ski Team veteran Monte Meier and former team member and Paralympic gold-medalist Jason Lalla, both stand-up skiers like Green.”Jason is one of the best tactical skiers I’ve ever seen,” Green said. “(Meier) skis really, really good. I try to learn a lot from him. He’s willing to share some of his secrets with me. Those are some of the guys I look at and study even more than the able-bodied guys.”Green knows that he won’t be a ski racer for the rest of his life. He is working on his bachelor’s degree in social work, and wants to become a liaison between the world of alpine skiing and the inner city, providing urban children with opportunities to try his sport, with the help of organizations like the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS).”I don’t want to be like a scout saying, ‘You’re going to be a ski racer.’ But I want to have a team to pick out certain skiers and introduce them to say, the NBS, get some funds allocated to put them in ski schools if that’s something they and their parents decide they want to do,” Green said.His place in the universe
In the meantime, Green hopes he inspires people he meets along the way.”As far as on the hill, I get a lot of looks, and meet a lot of people who say a lot of positive things,” he said. “I’ve hopefully helped (people) feel better about themselves. If they feel they have a problem in life – whatever it may be – they see me skiing, hopefully that will let them say, ‘Hey, I thought I had a problem. This kid had a problem. Look at him now.'”This, Green says, is part of the mark he’s etching into the universe.”It’s an honor to have my stamp in time,” he said. “My stamp in time for me, for my friends, my family, my peers, my teammates, is that I’m the first black male to make the United States Disabled Ski Team. I’m pretty sure I’ll be the first black male ever to go to the alpine Olympics. I want to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I was the first African-American male to podium in the Olympics or Paralympics. But it isn’t about color. It really, really isn’t. A lot of people in a lot of professions see it that way because I’m defying expectations. But shucks, I could be black and go and get my butt kicked. Or, I could be white or any nationality.”When Green returns to his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., some of his friends don’t completely understand what it is he does, but he’s OK with that, too.”I want people to see that you don’t have to do the norm,” he said. “I mean, I’m a kid from Brooklyn. I don’t have to do what everyone from Brooklyn do. I’m on the U.S. Ski Team. When I go back to New York, I hear some of the weirdest things. Like, ‘Yo, ain’t you ice skating in Alaska, or somethin’?’ I think it’s good people are interested. I’m just like, ‘Nah … close, though.'”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado