By Lilly Kashishian
Passion is the uncontrollable emotion that jumps out of your soul when you’re doing something you truly love; the emotion that leads you to one day look back on your life and be more than satisfied with the way it turned out.
Despite being born without a right fibula, Paralympic alpine skier Tyler Carter, 21, has found his passion on the slopes.
About one in every 40,000 people are born without a fibula, which is an issue since the bone stabilizes the lower leg, and allows surrounding bones and muscles to develop. So, when Carter was just a year old, he had to have his right leg amputated.
As Carter grew older, he adapted to the things he couldn’t physically do, which only furthered his passion to find something he could excel at.
At 8 years old, his parents enrolled him in Camelback’s ski camp in the Poconos. The camp was for children with physical disabilities, and run through the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports. After attending for many years, Carter was recruited by the National Sports Center for the Disabled to join a team in Winter Park, Colorado, and his skiing career took off from there.
“I got more involved with the sport, committed more time, and it eventually led up to me moving to Winter Park and becoming a full-time athlete,” Carter said.
Staring Down the Slope
Growing up, skiing was simply done for fun; an escape from everyday life. It wasn’t until the 2010 Paralympics that Carter came to realize that he wanted to pursue the sport.
“The Paralympics weren’t televised until the last couple of Winter Games,” Carter said. “During the 2010 Games in Vancouver, I received a scholarship to attend and watch the Games. That’s when I knew this was something I wanted to compete in, not just sit back and watch.”
His goal as he left Vancouver? To qualify for the Sochi Paralympic Games in 2014.
To qualify, one must carry a low cumulative score (over 18 months) in races throughout the season, which take place mostly in Colorado, but are also held in other states, and even extend to Canada.
“For the United States Paralympic team, they had a point cut-off criteria where you had to be under 220 points. Then, it was up to the coaches to select who would go to Sochi,” Carter explained.
In August of 2012, Carter buckled down and focused on qualifying for the 2014 Games. Every race was a chance to qualify or move up not only in the U.S. standings, but in world rankings.
“The year of the Games was huge for me because I had a few good results, which bumped me up in the rankings and helped secure my spot on the team” Carter said.
Pressure Was Off
Working so hard and fighting for a spot on the U.S. team is quite stressful for anyone, so when Carter was named to the team, all of the self-imposed pressure was lifted from his shoulders.
“I was very grateful. I knew I could go to Sochi, do my best, and everyone would be cheering me on,” Carter said.
After being named to the team, Carter had several weeks to continue preparing for the Games. Knowing he had support from his family, friends, and people at home gave him the motivation to keep working until he arrived in Sochi.
Although Carter didn’t get the results he hoped for in Sochi, he considers it the best two weeks of his life.
“It was incredible. It’s the biggest stage in the world and knowing that you made it to that level is rewarding,” Carter said. “There was such energy between the audience, athletes, and even the staff, volunteers, and security. You knew you were at ‘the show.’”
Family Over Everything
Without his family’s support, Carter believes he wouldn’t be where he is today.
When Carter told his parents that he wasn’t going to college after high school, and that he wasn’t going to be working a standard job so he could focus on training, his parents were nothing but supportive.
“They’ve had my back through everything once I decided I wanted to go on this crazy journey,” Carter said.
Having his back also means that his parents never allowed him to use his disability as an excuse.
“When I was younger, if I wanted a glass of water, and I didn’t have my leg on, my parents would say, ‘‘Either you can hop on over there and get it yourself, or put your leg on and walk over. We’re not going to get it for you every time you need something,’” Carter.
Carter’s parents found that balance between making sure he wasn’t babied, but providing him with loving support when something difficult came up.
Carter’s father, Ed, has not only been a supportive father, but he’s also taken on the role of manager, doctor, coach, and motivator.
“He’s helped me achieve my goals. He’s always been behind me and never questioned anything,” Carter said. “Now we’re best friends. He’s the first person I got to when I have news, or just need to talk.”
To Infinity and Beyond
In his time off the snow, Carter likes to give back to the community by volunteering at different organizations such as the National Sports Center for the Disabled, the organization that has had Carter’s back ever since they recruited him to their ski team.
He also volunteers at Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports, the place where he learned how to ski.
He’s an ambassador for the I Am Able Foundation — a Reading, Pennsylvania-based organization that encourages people to get outside and live an active lifestyle.
This summer, he will be a counselor at a camp run by the Amputee Coalition.
“If I can spend half my time off the slopes helping others, then I’ll do it,” Carter said. “It’s great to show these kids that if they’re having a tough time, life will get better. You can really do anything if you try.”
Never Give Up
As Carter stares down his future, he doesn’t necessarily know what it holds. What he does know is that he wants to not only qualify for the 2018 Paralympic Games in Korea, but bring home a gold medal.
“My intention is to go to Korea and medal. I want it for myself, but I want it to honor my dad, too,” Carter said. “Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
And Carter has shown that when he has a goal in his mind, not much is going to stop him. Not even an icy slope.