Sports Mpower Sports, Shannon Galea

Published on March 14th, 2018 | by mpower


What #AthletesFirst Means to Me

By: Heather Ehrman Krill

There is much about parenting which is damn hard, but we are doing, maybe, at least one thing right. Our kids are surrounded by really cool people who live with and around disability and enjoy sports. They don’t see a difference yet between adaptive sports and just plain sports. #Athletesfirst is what our children have experienced since the day they arrived in this world, believing recreational and competitive sports are part of life.   We recorded the Paralympics downhill on Saturday because we would be skiing at Loon, our home mountain. After the lifts closed, we headed home where our kids came inside, threw down their ski bags, ripped off their coats and ski pants, and chill-axed on the couch, “Mom, can we watch the mono-skiers?” My husband, Geoff, who is a paraplegic and also a professional skier and director of Eastern Adaptive Sports, has explained to them that he two choices after learning to mono ski: to become a competitor or an educator. He’s chosen his life work to be the latter, but this doesn’t change his love of sport or competition or challenge.

Together, we first watched Laurie Stevens win a bronze medal followed by Andrew Kurka with gold, where we then discussed the fact that Andrew has abs and Daddy does not. Only in an #athletesfirst kind of family are abs discussed in terms of mobility. By abs, we mean the existence of abdominal muscles. Our kids will tell you, “We have 8 packs but Daddy maybe only has zero packs.” We carry on conversations about sport classification or levels of paralysis like other families maybe discuss the weather or March Madness.

We talk about the fact that Daddy’s friend, Tyler Walker, is also a Paralympic skier competing this year in South Korea, last night winning a silver medal in giant slalom. “Does he have one leg or zero legs or do his legs just not work?” Our daughter asks matter of factly. I remind them that Tyler is from the same town that Daddy’s friend Cam Shaw Doran lives in. Cam is another kind of #athletesfirst sort of person who spends hours handycling through the White Mountains and once even pushed his wheelchair up Mt. Washington before some man from Pennsylvania could do it first. Our kids spend time with Andy Parr, their dad’s former housemate before me and a Paralympic skier whose visual impairment doesn’t stop him from skiing with his own son and daughter. The haven’t yet met Meredith Koch who had a piano fall on her, or Ryan St. Lawrence who was able to ride a downhill mountain bike this past summer after sustaining a spinal cord injury the summer before. He is now learning to mono ski, and he is frustrated because the learning curve is just plain terrible– but #athletesifrst. Our family follows blogs by service dogs and their owners Chris Slavin and Katelynne Steinke, also #athletesfirst. The knowns and unknowns of #athletesfirst make our lives full of adventure and recreation and challenge.

Yet, in an #athletes first kind of family, sports allow us to play together outside building our hearts, our brains, our muscles, our problem solving ability, our teamwork, and our character. Our kids wanted to ski when they were two because Daddy skied. They learned to ride two wheelers earlier than most because their Daddy handcycled. They hiked and skied out of Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington when they were only 4 and 3 the first time because, well, Daddy wanted to— and had been doing it for years— with a little help from his #athletesfirst kind of friends.

#Athletesfirst grow up believing that anything is possible. #Athletesfirst see our abilities before any limitations. Our children will tell you that their dad is a professional skier, a teacher, a handcyclist, a fisherman, a biathloner, but, oh, and, hey, he doesn’t walk well. He doesn’t walk well because he is paralyzed from the chest down. Kids of #athletesfirst don’t use that kind of language though because they are kids, and kids naturally see what is possible.

Our kids understand the difference between the Olympics and Paralympics and Special Olympics. There are adults who do not comprehend this distinction. But the common denominator in this idea is that an athlete is an athlete is an athlete first– no matter what the physical or intellectual challenges one must overcome. #Athletesfirst. They were athletes before– and still– and forever.

Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 7 and 6. Please check out her novel True North, website, author FB page Heather Krill, @heatherkrill1 on Twitter, and, most recently added in the New Year, her Youtube channel “Writing from the Front.”


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