By Orge Castellano
JEONGSEON, South Korea—Whether he is hanging out at the Paralympic village, doing interviews at the mixed zone or just out in the field of play racing ferociously the clock or his competitors on the course, you can easily spot Andrew Kurka, always smiling and with a great presence. Charismatic, charming and determined the native Alaskan, born and raised in a Russian village called Nikolaevsk, came to South Korea with one goal in mind: to find redemption from Sochi 2014. There he saw his chances to medal slipped away when he broke his back before the competition even began. After that, he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to compete anymore. “I didn´t know if I was going continue to ski again, to chase this dream because I had all these several injuries,” he said.
After a four-year fightback from rock bottom and despite the physical challenges the 26-year-old made an impressive comeback winning four world championships medals in the men’s sitting class, including his first world title and a three-medal performance in 2017 of what could be considered one of the most successful years of his entire career. This Saturday morning, he finally saw his Paralympic dreams come true and found redemption when he hit the podium at the Jeongseon Alpine Center, winning the well-deserved gold medal in the Men’s Downhill, sitting category on a course that seemed to be deteriorating as the day grew longer.
“This is redemption right here, I’m going to move forward with what I know how to do, I’m going to continue listening to my coaches, I’m going to keep the line on my text and going to my best, to be better tomorrow than I was today, that’s my goal, that´s my plan” he said.
Yet, for the Paralympian, the journey hasn’t been the easiest one. Growing up, Andrew knew deep inside he wanted to become a pro-athlete, taste the podiums, the glory, and collect the hard working efforts. That’s why he started to compete so young, at just 6 years of age, wrestling was the sport he chose, due to its popularity at the village, and soon enough he showed great promise, and became the one to beat. Promptly, he was traveling across the nation, competing in high-class junior championships making his hometown and his family proud.
But his aspirations to become an Olympian changed drastically at 13 when he became paralyzed from the waist down in an ATV accident while heading out on a fishing trip. He then was introduced to the sport of sit-down alpine skiing by a physical therapist while recovering from his spinal cord injury, from then on he knew immediately that skiing was his true passion. He became unstoppable in the field, but for him, it has always been about the sportsmanship and how he can make a change rather than the titles or the medals.“The super G is coming tomorrow, and I need to keep moving forward this week, it’s not over for me, I’ve got more going, it´s not about the gold medal for me, the media is always surprised, I’m here to be the best person that I can be. If I got silver or bronze, I just would´ve learned from it and focus on being better tomorrow” he said after the victory
When asked about his golden moment he said “The gold medal sunk in when I was out there with Corey Peters, in the middle of the snow and I looked left and I got to see my family standing there cheering, my mom waving at me, this is the first race that they see me compete in, and they were here.
For the new Paralympian champion is not only the accolades what drives him but the life experiences and the people he creates relationships with. For Andrew there’s always more to learn, to be or do “I get my inspiration and motivation from anyone who can overcome something”.