Aiming for a Consecutive Title
at the PyeongChang 2018
Snowboarding is to become an official event at the Paralympics, starting with the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games. The only snowboarder capable of winning a consecutive gold medal is American Evan Strong, gold medal winner of the Alpine Skiing Snowboard-Cross event at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games.
Since winning at Sochi, he has spent four years training to be a better athlete. His confidence is evident when he speaks. “I know everyone wants to win. But I can’t let anyone else win.”
“To win the season title, you really can’t make a single mistake. So when I held that crystal globe trophy in my hand, I was very happy.”
With this, Strong now has the crystal globe trophy—considered the most prized award in the para snowboard world—and a new, overall World Cup trophy under his belt. Even for an athlete like Strong, however, the Paralympic Games is something special.
“The whole world is watching, and everyone expects a lot out of you. I mean, it’s only every four years. I can work towards the crystal globe trophy every year, but that’s not how it works for the Paralympics. I spent four years training for it, and so when I’m finally there, about to compete in PyeongChang, the pressure I’ll feel will be a lot more intense.”
His Love of Skateboarding
Saved Him from Despair
November 3rd, 2004. It was on this day, only ten days before his 18th birthday, that Strong was hit by a drunk driver while riding his bike. It was a major accident, one that necessitated the amputation of his left leg. For someone that had been training to become a professional skateboarder, who had had sponsors since he was only 13 years old, this felt, suddenly, like the end of everything. The cheerful, optimistic boy that had grown up in the perpetual summers of Hawaii found himself staring at the hospital ceiling, feeling that he had not just lost his left leg, but his entire identity.
His life until then had been 100% about skateboarding. He had been good at skateboarding, and had given back to his community through skateboarding. He had a dream and a bright future ahead of him as a skateboarder. All that, gone in an instant. He was left wondering what kind of value he had left as a person, and was plunged into a gulf of deep despair.
His passion for skateboarding dissipated completely as well. He felt, in a sense, completely disengaged from it. It was, however, his love for skateboarding that ultimately saved him from this time in his life. His soul eventually moved back towards skateboarding—that was just how much he loved it.
“That’s what they say—love is blind. I think because of that, I finally started to see what I should do. Just work hard at rehabilitation, so I could skateboard again.”
The road there, however, was not easy. From the start, it was marred with difficulty. “It was hard at first to even stand up, and it was really hard to walk. And there was the pain as well.”
Because of this, just being able to stand up and put on his own pants, or being able to put on his own shoes, felt like victories to him.
Strong, who had gotten so close to being a professional skateboarder, went back into it as a beginner. “I went back to when I was a kid and had just started skateboarding. I just did what I’d done the first time, again.”
Though frequently overcome by stress, he did not give up. He looked only towards what was in front of him, and thought instead that he had been given a second chance at life. After all, the accident had not taken his life. And he believed that discerning value out of this new self would be proof that he was alive.
Strong discovered snowboarding right in the midst of his journey to recovery. When he would pick up a snowboarding magazine and flip through it, he felt as if the sport was inviting him to try it. Snowboarding, like skateboarding, is a “board” sport. Immediately, he thought, “this is something I can do.” Perhaps it was fate that Strong discovered snowboarding.
Strong officially became a snowboarder in 2007, and already, a year later, won first place at a para snowboarding tournament. In the years after, he used the techniques he cultivated in his years as a skateboarder to perform very well at various tournaments.
After the Accident,
A Whole New World of Potential
Strong had this to say about the moment when the gold medal was finally bestowed upon him at the Sochi Paralympic Games, after years and years of tireless work. “After the accident, I felt like everything was taken away from me. But actually, it wasn’t. As long as the things that are important to you are there within your soul, nobody can take it away from you. It was when I figured that out that I was finally able to complete my recovery.”
He himself feels that he has only gotten stronger as an athlete, and as a person, since his accident. “Before the accident, I didn’t know what kind of potential I had. I didn’t even know how strong I was. Being in the accident allowed me to discover a new self. Bob Marley (Jamaican reggae musician) once said, ‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice,’ and I think that’s really true.”
However, Strong’s journey to fulfill his newfound potential is not over. After the PyeongChang Paralympic Games, he will continue to snowboard, but this time competing mainly against able-bodied snowboarders. He is also thinking about competing in the summer Paralympic Games. This is because there is a chance that in 2024, surfing will become an official event, and a young Strong had been just as much into surfing as he had been into skateboarding. He has already had experience competing in para-surfing competitions, which means we may catch a glimpse of him riding the waves at the Paris Paralympic Games.
Strong has worked to pave a path for himself, after an accident that seemed to take all possibility away from him. His absolute determination and optimistic outlook are, most likely, the source of his strength. There is definitely something captivating about super-athlete Evan Strong, Paralympic extraordinaire.
Record in the Paralympic Games
PyeongChang Paralympic Games
Men’s Banked Slalom (LL2): Silver medal
Sochi Paralympic Games
Men’s Snowboard-Cross (LL2): Gold medal
Updated on May 4, 2018
interview by Shinichi Uehara
photo by Getty Images