Snowboard cross made its Paralympics debut in Sochi last week. It was a U.S. medal sweep, led by Evan Strong's gold. And while it was a great experience and great accomplishment, there's plenty left on the table for the 27-year-old former skateboarding champion.
At age 17, Strong's motorcycle was hit by an oncoming driver, changing his life but not his zest for life. As he told Sports Media Report today, it was one step at a time, and clearly Strong has been enjoying every one of them.
He's also been working with longtime Paralympic sponsor The Hartford on various programs, including "What Defines You," in which fans can share their own stories of what defines them at www.whatdefinesyou.com. The Hartford will donate $1 to U.S. Paralympics for every Twitter and Facebook posting or email share from the campaign site, up to $100,000.
Here is some of what Strong had to say in an interview that ranged from his feelings post-injury to his future, which includes meeting President Obama. Or, maybe more appropriately, the President meeting Strong.
Sports Media Report: First, congratulations on winning gold in Sochi. How did it feel, first for yourself, and to be part of a USA sweep?
Evan Strong: I feel very accomplished and euphoric. It was an amazing experience, and it feels good to be able to put together a plan, prepare, train, work hard, focus, then go there, not buckle under the pressure, and execute that plan. I never knew how much it would all affect me. The medal ceremony, being up there with my good friends Michael Shea and Keith Gabel. It's a true testament to our training and coaching and everything that we came there to do and how hard we all worked.
SMR: A lot of people came away from these Games thinking that snowboard cross might be the most exciting thing they've ever seen, let alone an event in the Paralympics. What got you interested in it?
ES: I think you said it there, it's so exciting. I got hooked up seven years ago with a non-profit called Adaptive Action Sports, they brought me out to the US Nationals, and I got to compete in all five disciplines. What fit like a glove was snowboard cross. I didn't know at the time, but it was the beginning of the movement of a handful of people who were trying to get the sport into the Paralympics. I was in the right place at the right time.
SMR: What are some of the similarities and differences in the various sports that you compete in? Do you have a favorite?
ES: All of them are my favorites. I do so many different sports because I know if I only did one I would burn out on that one. It keeps it exciting and fresh. I'm looking forward to downhill mountain biking next, I'm looking forward to racing this coming summer. I took a couple of seasons off to try to stay healthy. It's another sport that's exciting but dangerous. And, of course, skateboarding is a constant for me. I also do rock climbing with my wife and sister.
SMR: Was there a defining moment for you after your accident that you said, ok, this happened, but I'm going to work through it and still compete?
ES: Definitely, my accident flipped my world upside down. I was a pro skateboarder, and I already had 10 years in skating. It filled my cup, made me whole. After the accident, having my left leg amputated, I didn't know how to fit back into life. But a week after the accident, on my 18th birthday, all my family and friends were together and I told them that my goal was to get back to skateboarding again. Even if I get 1% of my ability back, I had to skateboard. It is who I am, it makes me whole. I never had the idea that I was going to compete again, or be the best in the world. I am so grateful to be here to be able to experience the sport again, that is rewarding enough in itself. Once I got that ability back, I wanted to set another goal. I felt so empowered in that direction, to an other goal. It really set me up for success. One goal at a time, then to the pinnacle of the sport. Winning gold for my country, myself, my family and friends, I've been experiencing an afterglow of joy.
SMR: How has the 'What Defines You' campaign been a part of your success?
ES: It's been so amazing on the journey to be able to be able to team with amazing people. The Hartford is so special; our mission statement is focusing on working with our abilities, not our disabilities. It's particularly special because this is the 20th year that The Hartford has been with the Paralympics. That's the very beginning. They want to make this more special with the 'What Defines You' campaign.
SMR: So, what defines you?
ES: There are so many things that define me. If I could write something different on that page every day I would. I am a parasnowboard goal medalist. I am a friend. I am inspired. I am driven. I am so many different things. I am having fun reading what people have been sharing about themselves on the [whatdefinesyou.com] site. There are videos of me and my teammates there as well. I like that you can help paralympic athletes be able to have the resources to achieve these goals.
SMR: How important is the support of sponsors in the Paralympics?
ES: It's what makes it all possible. Without companies like The Hartford, we can't do what we do, bringing the sport to the world. It's essential.
SMR: You mentioned the mountain biking. What else is next for you?
ES: I'm heading to Connecticut to visit a children's hospital, I'll go home for two weeks, then to the White House to meet the President. Then I'll be at the National Championships in Colorado, then the season concludes and we'll see what's in store. I've been having fun getting stronger, faster, keeping up the training. My next goal is to be the first paralympian to compete in boardercross in the Olympics.