Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Soldier skis, trains with Paralympic athletes

Express Staff Writer

Army Spc. Andy Soule, left, practices his skills during his introduction to adaptive skiing in early February. He has advanced to ski with the U.S. Paralympic Team. Photo by David N. Seelig

In February, Army Spc. Andy Soule attempted Nordic skiing for the first time. He recently returned to the Wood River Valley to train with the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Ski Team.

"I learned a lot from athletes and coaches, not just about skiing techniques, but training techniques," said Soule, 25, of San Antonio, Texas.

Under the guidance of 2006 U.S. Paralympic Nordic skiers Bob Balk, Chris Klebl and Greg Mallory, Soule returned to the valley Feb. 22 to March 1 for a training camp.

"I tagged along and tried to learn as much as possible," Soule said.

The soldier first arrived for the introductory Cross-Country Ski Development Camp with the Wood River Ability Program, a nonprofit organization formed to promote physical and mental health for disabled people through sports and recreation.

After exhibiting exceptional ability and attitude at the camp, the Wood River Ability Program invited Soule to return to train with the U.S. Disabled Cross-Country Ski Team. Soule's affinity for the new sport prompted him to take a leave of absence from the Army to train with the elite athletes.

"It's a great sport as far as getting out in the woods, which is something you typically can't do in a wheelchair," Soule said.

Soule, a double-leg amputee, lost his legs while deployed to Afghanistan. During a routine patrol mission in April 2005, his vehicle ran over a road mine. He was thrown from the vehicle. His injuries resulted in amputations of both legs above his knees.

As an outpatient at the Brook Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, he attends physical therapy twice a day. Nordic skiing provides an avenue for the former track athlete to stay in shape.

"It's a hard sport to get started in. It's a lot of work," Soule said.

To ski, Soule uses a sit-ski apparatus, with skis mounted on the bottom. The device enables disabled skiers to ski while seated. The soldier's natural arm, shoulder and abdominal strength combined with his long arms make him naturally fit for the double-pole Nordic technique.

With guidance from the U.S. skiers, Soule practiced strength, endurance and technique. His training included a 27-kilometer ski tour on the Harriman Trail, north of Ketchum.

"One out of 100 could go out and do 27K after eight days," said Marc Mast, Wood River Ability Program director.

Impressed with his performance, the U.S. Ski Team invited Soule to attend a training camp in November at West Yellowstone, Mont.

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