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THREE-PEAT: BLACK SKIER RALPH GREEN RETURNS
By Eric Graham
Updated: February 23, 2014
ON ONE LEG FOR SOCHI 2014 PARALYMPICS
By Arthur George and Gary Norris Gray
From high school athlete to gunshot victim to amputee to Paralympic skier, as the first African-American man top make the United States Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Team. Ralph Green has been there, experienced all that, and now he’s back, for his third Paralympics approaching in Sochi, Russia. As we continue the stories of African American athletes in Black History Month, this is yet another positive event of 2014.
Coming into the Sochi Games, Green’s world ranking remains mid-level, albeit against world class competition. In the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) rankings in early February, he was ranked 25th in downhill, 27th in slalom (one of two representing USA), 28th in Super G (second on USA team), and 36th in Super Combined. However, at the IPC Alpine Skiing NorAm Cup in early January, Green won silver and bronze medals in slalom and giant slalom. The NorAm is not a World Cup event, but athletes earn points that help determine world rankings and qualification for IPC Alpine Skiing World Cups and Paralympic events, and Green qualified for the Paralympics. He is on the team, and now one of the most experienced members of Paralympics Ski Team USA, and sees himself as a leader of the team. Being a part of the team is a point of great pride with him, such that he has appended “USA” to his official signature.
SHOT IN THE LEG
Born in 1977 and a high school quarterback and multi-sport athlete, Green was shot in the leg at age 15 in an unprovoked attack while he and a friend walked along a street in Brooklyn. The incident resulted in him having his left leg amputated at the hip and brought a premature end to his days playing American football. The change became an early challenge.
“When you’re a kid and you from being a star quarterback to waking up one day and you don’t have a leg, you have to eventually learn how to be free and accept who you are. I got to a point in my life where I said, ‘So what I got one leg, I’m still going to push myself to be as great of an athlete as I was and to be an even better person.’” His mother was also a source of his energy. “When I was shot, she said, ‘I will not let my son be a forgotten one.’”
Ski slopes were distant in from the reality of Brooklyn, however. “I had never even thought about skiing before losing my leg,” he recalls. “I was one of the people who would see a downhill race on TV and think it was intriguing. But growing up in Brooklyn, skiing was probably the last thing on my mind.”
Success in skiing was distant as well. He was introduced to skiing one time in the Poconos, and hated it. Several years later, he became involved with an organization called Aspire, and tried the sport again. He admits that he fell a lot, but ultimately also fell in love with the sport. He hopped off a chairlift on one ski and two poles with small skis on them. Although it took him an hour and a half to reach the bottom, something told him this was his sport.
He calls that day, not his earlier Pocono experience, as his first day of skiing, which “was one of the best feelings you can ask for after having had something taken away from you. Losing a leg, and then clicking into a ski, and be gliding, and realizing I can go as fast as every single person here, and then eventually go faster.” That is the thing that he loves about skiing, he says: that it offers freedom to people with disabilities, the ability to go just as fast as anyone else.
CRASHING AND LEARNING TO FINISH
An official with the National Sports Center for the Disabled saw Green’s efforts, and invited him to train. That second try at skiing made him a beginner at age 20. He decided to make a fulltime commitment to the sport at 22, and it took several years before he was able to finish races. “When I crashed, which is what I did most of those years, I told myself, ‘Once you learn how to finish, you’re going to be a force to reckon with.’”
Finishing became a goal, as reflected in his motto on his website: “I’m not scared to go fast, not scared to crash, but I learned you have to finish and that’s what I’m doing now. Fear is not a factor.”
Now, after nine years on the team and his third Paralympic Winter Games waiting in Sochi, Green talks of a great respect for the sport and how his life story can help others. Now, when he returns home to Brooklyn, which he does often, he gives speeches in schools. “Growing up in Brooklyn I wanted to do something different and that got me into skiing. I knew in order to be a leader and a pillar in my community I had to do something that was not the norm. So far a lot of people, including family and friends, have recognized what I’ve done and achieved. Now they are now pushing the envelope further in their own lives as a result,” he added.
Defying expectations became Green’s goal. He moved to Colorado in 2000 and began training. Green made his international skiing debut in 2004, as part of the USA team that took home 24 medals. This includes eight gold, atop the rankings at the IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in Austria. He was also the first African American man to make the USA Para-alpine team. He is sponsored by the National Brotherhood of Skiers and by Home Depot and savors his role as an ambassador for his sport.
Green and Team USA will get a tune up for Sochi with the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals in Tarvisio, Italy, February 23-27. Around 70 athletes from nearly 20 countries are expected to gather for the last opportunity for world and Paralympic champions to compete before the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games. The Sochi Paralympics will be held March 7-16, with ten countries represented: Canada, Sweden, China, USA, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia, Finland, Korea, and Norway
The Paralympics this year are scheduled to get an unprecedented level of coverage to the Sochi 2014 Paralympics. In 2010 NBC ceased broadcasting the Para Games after a week citing poor ratings. This year NBC and NBC Sports Network will combine to air 50 hours of television, starting on March 7 with the Opening Ceremony. It will be followed by daily coverage of all five Paralympic sports in the Sochi program, before the Games’ Closing Ceremony is broadcast on March 16. In addition, the website TeamUSA.org will live stream all events from the Paralympic Winter Games. This unprecedented coverage is made possible through the support of sponsors BMW, BP, Citi, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Procter and Gamble, and The Hartford.
Competition for alpine skiing will take place March 8-16, with March 12 scheduled as an off-day. Athletes will compete in downhill, super-G, super combined, slalom and giant slalom. A list of events entered by each athlete will be available in late February. Ralph Green will be among them.
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