PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The patriotic instinct of Andrew “Andy” Soule led him to pursue a career in the army following the September 11 attacks. For the young man, it wasn’t a hard decision. He had a strong-minded willing to serve his country and felt he had the obligation to protect and defend his people back home. The destination where he was deployed to was Afghanistan, joining the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He never imagined what fate could have in store for the rookie, even though he was aware of the dangerous assignment that this honorable role entailed; his mission was a humble one, he never thought that the journey would become an all-familiar story for so many veterans.
In 2005, while Soule was on patrol, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated next to his Humvee. One of the soldiers in his unit was killed in the explosion and as for Soule, both of his legs were amputated, drastically changing the trajectory of his life. It was while he was in rehabilitation, he was introduced to the Paralympic sports movement as part of his recovery.
“Post-injury, Paralympic sport felt like a natural fit,” he said.
It has been several years since he attended a cross-country Nordic skiing clinic held by “Wood River Ability Program” in Sun Valley, ID with a lot of curiosity, interest, and caution he immediately fell in love with it and it didn’t take him a long time to get hooked on the snow discipline. Director of the program Marc Mast made a huge impact on the veteran, who was lost and didn’t know how to carry on with his life after the traumatic experience of amputation.
After Soule started training he showed an incredible natural promise for the sport of cross-country skiing. Quickly he was embraced by the US disabled ski team, soon he was traveling all over, globally and across the country, competing in world cup events as he honed his skills with dedicated practice and a sharp sense of discipline like a razor blade. When he discovered Biathlon then he promptly realized he needed to give it a try, he was a master of the guns already so it was a no-brainer for the athlete.
“I had a base of shooting skills already. I certainly had to learn the particulars of biathlon shooting and it’s quite a steep curve in some ways, but I think that I picked it up fairly quickly. My shooting experience growing up had been casual target shooting and then the military. In biathlon, there is more emphasis on the individual shot”
However, it was in Vancouver 2010 when Soule did America proud, there, he became the first US biathlete to win a Paralympic medal, it was a bronze one in the 2.4km sitting pursuit at his first Paralympic Games in ever. The international platform served him up on a platter of a consecutive streak of successes. That’s why he set high expectations for the next Games. During Sochi 2014, it was an ideal opportunity to clinch more shiny medals, but the try wasn’t victorious.
Mr. Soule had a lot of races to compete in coming into Pyeongchang 2018, one the largest participation in his entire career. But that didn’t matter at all to the veteran who knows perfectly well how to balance out his dedicated sports life.
“For Cross Country and Biathlon there a lot of pieces that I’ve working on in the last for years. That encompasses both psychology, nutrition all sorts of technic work as well as just straight physical training.”
The pressure factor doesn’t get him, mainly due to the fact that out in the field there are some many aspects of the races that he can’t control. After all, this is a man who has been through it all “I just focus on performing every individual task in ski racing and in Biathlon the best I can.” he said.
For the first events, Andy seemed drained, and even discouraged, but he played the consistency game he knows so well. He put out a great technical show to the spectators at the Alpensia Biathlon Center.
The veteran never gave up and despite the weather conditions–it was 70 degrees at one point–and the ferocious contenders, he endured. He didn’t let anything affect his strong sense of dedication, even as he was one of the last ones on the course to cross that enduring finish line.
On Wednesday, March 14th Soule unleashed a powerful surge and leaned at the line to win his first Paralympic gold medal, one day after winning Bronze in the Middle-distance Biathlon race. This one was photo finish moment for the Texan, one could even see how anxious he was, silver was secured, but at the end, he was awarded the elusive gold.
“It’s so exciting. And it’s all due to so many hours and years of preparation and work by so many people, not just me. The teammates and coaches and technical staff. And wonderful support from family and friends” he said after the tactical race.