9 adaptive athletes to watch for at X Games Aspen 2015

Doug Henry

Doug Henry competing in the Snowmobile Adaptive SnoCross Final during X Games Aspen 2014. Photo by Gabriel Christus/ESPN Images

As Aspen, Colorado, gears up for another action-packed Winter X Games, adaptive disciplines are adding an exciting new element to the extreme-sports tradition. In addition to the all-new Snowboarder X for adaptive athletes, events include Mono Skier X and the adrenaline-pumping Snowmobile SnoCross Adaptive.

America’s top adaptive winter-sports athletes won’t be outshined by those with able bodies, many of whom they’ve competed against in the past. For most, it’s a simply a new paragraph on an inspiring résumé of athletic achievement.

“When you’re in the start of the Mono Skier X course and the starter says, ‘Racers ready,’ my adrenaline and nerves peak, and when he says ‘Five seconds,’ that gate can drop at any time,” says X Games adaptive veteran Chris Devlin-Young. “The world fades away for me, including my disability. The only thing left is the finish line.”

One standout this season is expert Mike Shultz, who is out to defend his gold in SnoCross while also debuting in the inaugural Snowboard X Adaptive event. Here are six other adaptive athletes to watch this week.

X Games Aspen 2015 runs Jan. 22–25 and will be broadcast online as well as on ESPN and ABC. Check out the tune-in schedule for details.

Josh Dueck
Mono Skier X
After nearly a decade as a sit-ski racer with World Cup, Paralympic, and X Games wins, Dueck will dazzle as he comes out of retirement for one last challenge in Mono Skier X, which returns to X Games after a three-year absence. Dueck, a motivational speaker who is writing a book about his journey following severing his spinal cord after dropping 100 feet in a ski accident, isn’t just taking a victory lap in Aspen. He’s bringing a pro coach and ski tech to make sure he—and his final performance—is dialed to perfection. He says this year is extra special thanks to a “stellar support team, here to help unlock the riddle of this year’s Mono Skier X course.” When he’s not racing, Dueck will be an active spectator, along with X Games’ notoriously animated crowds. Dueck predicts SuperPipe, Slopestyle, and Big Air will keep everyone on the edge of their seats this year in Aspen.

Mike Shea
Snowboarder X Adaptive
Paralympic silver medalist Mike Shea may be best known as one of the “Three American Amigos” who swept the podium when snowboarding made its Paralympic debut at Sochi in 2014. Shea shattered his lower leg in a 2002 wakeboarding accident, but while he lost a body part, he lost no time in returning to sport. Already an avid snowboarder, he was hitting the slopes in just two short months. A U.S. Paralympic Team member, Shea shares his passion for adaptive sports with teammate (and roommate) Keith Gabel.

Mono ski

Samson Danniels, Josh Dueck, Gregory Peck, and Sean Rose competing in the Mono Skier X final at Winter X Games Aspen 2012. Photo by Eric Lars Bakke/ESPN Images

Brandon Adam
Mono Skier X
Winter X Games 2011 silver medalist Brandon Adam is an Army veteran, a double-leg amputee who lost his legs during an IED explosion in Iraq. He retired from sit-ski competition after X Games 2012, but following his militaristic approach to training—work hard and don’t complain—he’s making Aspen 2015 his comeback competition. The Mono Skier X race heats up with a battle against another kind of veteran, top X Games athlete Josh Dueck. Adam hopes to gain significant physical and mental edge coming off a much-needed operation. “This year is special because I underwent a disc replacement for my L5-S1 disc,” he says. “I was competing for years with a herniated disc. I had surgery in June of last year. I feel way better than before.”

Garrett Goodwin
Snowmobile SnoCross Adaptive
Just 22 years old, Garrett Goodwin has a long career ahead in adaptive sports, but he also comes from a legacy of snowmobiling. His dad was a champion oval racer and taught his son plenty of tricks over the years. Now Goodwin is building his own traditions. Paralyzed from the waist down during an accident while training for motocross, just five months later he was on a snowmobile raring to race again, only in a body that moved a little differently. On his three-year “wheeliversary,” Goodwin commented on Facebook, “It has certainly been an interesting and exciting journey since my accident. There have been a lot of ups and only a few downs. My advice to anyone is once you find ‘it,’ go after it and never stop, but be willing to take some risks and make mistakes along the way.” For Goodwin, who studied mechanical engineering, X Games competition is like a little laboratory. He’s designed three custom snowmobile seats based on what he’s learned on the race course and will debut his latest invention this week in Aspen. Building on a SnoCross bronze in 2013 and a silver in last year’s Winter X Games, the world will be watching to see what Goodwin can pull off in Aspen.

Keith Gabel
Snowboarder X Adaptive
Joining Mike Shea and Evan Strong, adaptive snowboarder Keith Gabel is the third amigo, taking bronze in Sochi to complete the historic podium sweep. The Utah native found snowboarding at age 15 and never looked back, even after sustaining a devastating industrial accident in 2005 that required the amputation of both his left foot and lower leg. While recovering, one of his first questions was, “When can I snowboard again?” Gabel was back on the snow in three months. With his new home base just down-valley from Aspen, Gabel knows the Winter X Games venue well and is sure to be a serious contender in the debut of the exciting Snowboard X Adaptive event.

Samson Danniels
Mono Skier X
After taking gold at X Games Aspen 2012, Danniels has spent time making turns in the backcountry, but not training to race. It will be exciting to watch what 6’6” paraplegic Danniels, known for his hard-charging racing style, will do as he returns to competition this year. Danniels was paralyzed from the armpits down after a 2009 mountain biking accident, yet was skiing six months after his accident. That also makes him the athlete with highest disability degree in the X Games field. To help control and balance through turns and rollers, Danniels uses a custom seat that he built himself.

Doug Henry
Snowmobile SnoCross Adaptive
Doug Henry started his career in SuperMoto, but sustained an injury during competition in 2007 that rendered him a paraplegic. Like Danniels, Henry is the oldest (45) athlete in the snowmobile discipline, but age has made him no less formidable. With two silvers and a bronze in Snowmobile SnoCross Adaptive, there’s no hiding that Henry is gunning for gold this year.

Chris Devlin-Young
Mono Skier X
At 53, Chris Devlin-Young is more than twice the age of his youngest Mono Skier X competitor. But the kids know he’s one of the competition’s most experienced threats. CDY, as he’s known, took home bronze in 2008 and returns to Aspen for his fifth Winter X Games appearance. “I’m just happy they can keep up with me and make it a great race,” he says. “Gravity makes for a pretty big foe, and when you put the top athletes together and we all defy gravity at the same time, that’s the makings of a real nail-biter.” Off the slopes, CDY has proven that power translates to people, too. After his plane crashed while he was serving in the Coast Guard, paralyzing him fully from the knees down and partially below the waist, CDY found skiing through the Veterans Administration Winter Sports Clinic, where he went on to coach the first race-development camp for injured veterans. In his free time CDY makes wheelchair-accessible furniture to help other adaptive folks with everyday challenges.

Catch the action at X Games Aspen, Jan. 22-25 on ESPN and ABC.

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