Paralympians wrap up season in Vail | VailDaily.com

Paralympians wrap up season in Vail

Paralympian and Vail native Thomas Walsh on Vail Mountain Friday, April 6, during the 23rd annual Adaptive Spirit annual fundraising event. The event brings together Paralympians and telecom industry executives and usually raises about $1 million for Paralympic Team USA.

VAIL — Growing up in Vail, Thomas Walsh remembers seeing the Adaptive Spirit annual fundraiser take place each spring. He never imagined, however, that he would become an integral part of what the event represents.

Walsh, 23, is wrapping up his first season competing on the biggest stage in adaptive skiing, the Paralympic Winter Games. He notched a fifth-place finish in the slalom in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a result which has made him hungry for more.

"Unfortunately I just missed the podium, but I know if I continue the momentum it will only be good news next Paralympics," Walsh said.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Getting Walsh and the rest of the team to the next Paralympics is where organizations such as Adaptive Spirit come into play.

In 1995, when a few representatives from the telecom industry started up a fundraising effort in Vail, it single-handedly saved the team that would become Paralympic Team USA. Now an annual bash attracting more than 1,000 adaptive athletes and telecom industry representatives to Vail each spring, the event raises more than $1 million for the alpine, Nordic, snowboard and biathletes of Paralympic Team USA in a single weekend.

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"It's an event for everyone to come together, meet the athletes, and celebrate U.S. Paralympics," said Brenna Huckaby, who won gold in snowboard cross and banked slalom at the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

Huckaby also won the World Cup overall globe for adaptive snowboarding in 2018, which means she pretty much won everything there is to win this season. Speaking from Vail on Friday, April 6, she said there's one more race, however, where she really wants a victory.

On Saturday, April 7, the annual event culminates with a parallel race on Golden Peak, where able-bodied skiers from the telecom industry race alongside the Paralympians for whom they're all gathered. Huckaby will be racing with team CBS/Showtime.

"We really want to win," she said. "We have a super fun team and I really like their competitiveness."

BORN TO BE TOGETHER

Watching telecom industry executives race alongside Paralympians, many times the adaptive athletes make the able bodied skiers look, well, not so able bodied.

It seems like an odd pairing — Paralympians such as Walsh, beloved in their communities — and cable industry execs whose companies aren't exactly known for being a favorite institution among consumers.

At the adaptive spirit annual event, however, it would seem the two groups are born to be together.

"It's awesome how they take our community and really express the true camaraderie, friendship, dedication that all athletes have in different Paralympic sports," Walsh said, with a look around the Mid-Vail restaurant where the athletes and telecom industry executives were gathered.

Also in attendance were a number of reporters, photographers, videographers and documentarians, helping to tell the story. Hans Rosenwinkel is currently making a film for IMAX called "Flying with Superheros," about the athletes in Vail this weekend.

"Never been to Adaptive Spirit before," he said.

Walsh, who was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in 2009, said getting a peripheral view of the event as a Vail local, it never occurred to him how monumental it was.

"I was familiar with it, but now that I'm a part of it I get to see the whole grand scheme of it all, and realize, for me, what a true blessing it is to have such support for our sport," he said.

The Adaptive Spirit race is scheduled to take place on Saturday at Golden Peak starting at 10 a.m.