Vermonter Stephen Lawler Skis For Team USA At Pyeongchang Paralympics
The 2018 Winter Paralympics are under way in South Korea. These games follow the Olympics every four years and showcase the highest level competition for athletes with a variety of impairments in events that include alpine and cross country skiing, snowboarding, biathlon and ice hockey.
One Vermonter is among these world-class athletes. He's 27-year-old Stephen Lawler of Burlington. Lawler was born with spina bifida. At age six, he started skiing in at Sugarbush on a family vacation.
"They put me in a mono-ski at the adaptive program there. It was actually called a bi-ski, there are actually two skis under it. That's how people start. Since I was six, I thought it was a sled and I went straight down the hill. They had to do what's called tethering. They tied some rope to the back and don't let you go too fast," Lawler said.
"When I was 11, I started going up with my school on weekends. I was approached by Vermont Adaptive asking if I wanted to try ski racing and I tried it out and I've been doing it ever since."
"What I liked about it when I first started was that I was able to keep up with all of my friends, and it didn't really hold me back. I actually turned out to be faster once I did it for a few years. Everyone I know knows I'm fast at skiing, so it's pretty fun to go with your friends and keep up down the hill."
He was the first adaptive ski racer in Vermont to represent a high school ski team in competition.
After high school he moved to Colorado to continue his ski training. He was named to Team USA for the 2014 Paralympics, but was not medically cleared to compete due to a shoulder injuries that have recurred throughout his ski career.
"What I liked about it when I first started was that I was able to keep up with all of my friends, and it didn't really hold me back. I actually turned out to be faster once I did it for a few years." — Stephen Lawler, two-time Paralympian
Lawler dislocated his shoulder two weeks before the Peyongchang games, but says with physical therapy, he was able to compete. He place 18th in the Downhill and 22nd in the Super G.
"Not as good as I'm used to but with everything that's gone on and how hard I worked to get here, I'm happy enough with it."
Lawler says he's been pleased to see increased recognition of the accomplishments of the Paralympians.
"I think it's pretty cool that people are almost more impressed. We've skied near able-bodied skiers at Aspen Mountain Training, they're always super impressed by it and they've been doing it at the highest level for a while. We're getting more TV coverage than we ever have before and it's gaining popularity. It's pretty cool."
The Paralympics wrap up this weekend. Lawler says the experience in South Korea has been fun.
"It's fun working for four years and then it paying off, you make it over here. I would have liked to have skied a little better, but with everything that went on, it was fun. And the people over here are awesome. It's a really cool country."
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Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the host city of the 2018 Winter Olympics.