Andrew Kurka made history in Pyeongchang on Saturday by becoming the first person from Alaska to win a gold medal at the Winter Paralympics.
The 26-year-old downhill skier blazed down the course in 1 minute, 24.11 seconds.
“I have never won a downhill by 1.6 seconds, that is a huge margin in our sport, usually it’s tenths or hundredths,” Kurka he told Anchorage Daily News after the race. “…The best coaching staff in the world and amazing tech — I have never had such a fast ski in my life.”
It was an incredibly meaningful accomplishment because four years ago, Kurka broke his back in a training run before the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. Shortly after that? He fractured his femur.
“Prior to that, my dream has always been to be the No. 1 in the world,” he told USA Today. “After hurting my back in Sochi and breaking my femur eight months later, I was bedridden and I was sitting in the hospital and I didn’t know what was next in my career. And I decided to shift my focus a lot. It became more about helping other individuals and really showcasing Paralympics and my story to show people they can overcome these obstacles in their lives. If I can do it, so can you.”
Here’s his run from Pyeongchang.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) March 10, 2018
Kurka has been paralyzed from the waist down since the age of 13 when he broke his back in a four-wheeler accident. Prior to that, he was a talented wrestler who won multiple state championships. He returned to the mat to win two more state titles after his ATV accident, but with some encouragement from a physical therapist, he also tried his hand at skiing.
“I loved it, and I dedicated everything to it. I knew I wanted to be the best skier in the world,” Kurka said in this video released by the Paralympic Games.
Kurka doesn’t only impress on the alpine course. He can also take on challenging big mountain terrain. In fact, he’s the first person on a sit-ski to ever ski down Alyeska’s Christmas Chute, which is a steep and narrow “expert-only” run.
When not on snow, he can be found in the booth as a country music DJ, or out in nature, fishing, hunting and camping.
Kurka’s time in South Korea isn’t over yet. He still has three more events to compete in. And, our money is on him taking home some more hardware.