Like many of us, Chris Waddell loves the feeling of being atop Bald Mountain at Deer Valley Resort. The distant peaks of the snow capped High Uintas are off to the right. To the left is the panoramic ridgeline of Park City. Below him is a pristine piste that is ready to be carved.
But instead of standing on two skis to admire the view, he sits in a fiberglass monocoque called a monoski. As the term implies, below him is a single ski, firmly attached to his plastic cockpit. With a push, he's off, wind in his face, his upper body maneuvering the monoski as he puts down some of the prettiest turns in the mountain as skiers stand transfixed by the scene.
Lifelong skier and collegiate racer Chris Waddell was at the peak of his career when a skiing accident took away functionality of the lower half of his body. Just 362 days later, he was back on snow - this time in a monoski. One of the most decorated Paralympic athletes, Waddell today is an inspiration - like the rest of us, still aspiring for those deep powder Utah days near his adopted home!
Chris Waddell's story is not one of great tragedy at the age of 20, but more the inspiration he has brought as one of the world's great athletes.
A Massachusetts native, Waddell moved to Utah full time in 1999 to train for the 2002 Olympics and, like many others, to ski The Greatest Snow on Earth. Last Chair caught up with him in his temporary Bear Lake house, still pensively waiting for renovations to his ski town home in Park City.
Chris how did you find your way into skiing?
I grew up in a town called Granby, Massachusetts, which was probably about 5,000 people in western Mass. We were the in-between of the Berkshires. Mount Tom was about ten minutes away - 680 feet of vertical, about half the height of the Empire State Building. And I saw the kids racing. I was six years old or something and I said, 'I want to do that.
What was your pathway as a ski racer?
I didn't go to a ski academy, I went to a prep school, which meant that we might get to train for an hour a day or something like that. And it was a much shorter season. And I felt like I'd never given myself the chance to see how good I could be as a ski racer. So going to Middlebury, in a lot of ways for me, was going to be my Olympics. It was going to be how I proved how good I could possibly be. And so I spent the whole fall really trying to somehow write a new narrative. And and so my goal every day was to push myself in dry land training to the point where I wanted to quit. Because if I quit and then moved a little bit beyond that, then it was new territory.
But that suddenly changed in an instant!
The first day of Christmas vacation, I went home. My brother and I went to Berkshire East and met up with a bunch of the buddies. We all skied with a group. It was a warm, sunny day. It was like a spring day, 20th of December, slushy snow, which was completely unheard of. And we took a couple of runs, as the coach said, and I was testing a new pair of skis - hadn't been on them yet. And we were going to run slalom and we came down and went back to the race track and he wasn't there. So we decided we'd take one more run. And it was just kind of a strange thing. You're trying to find that sense of harmony, I think, in your skiing. Right, because you hadn't really been on snow that long and just trying to find that right feeling. And that's what I was doing and came over a little little knoll and then made a turn and my ski popped off in the middle of a turn. And all I remember is my ski popping off.
How did your friends respond?
I was in shock. But my friend, a guy named Jim Schaefer who actually now owns Berkshire East, was the first one to me. My brother was there soon afterwards and I was just kind of lying on the ground and they were doing their best. It was obvious to them that I'd hurt myself pretty badly. So they were trying to keep me from moving and everything until the ski patrol could come up. I fell in the middle of the trail and didn't hit anything but the ground. It was just one of those weird falls. I probably had taken what I thought were much worse falls and had no problem. But this time, whatever I did, I did it in exactly the right or the wrong way, however you want to look at that.
What was the outcome of your accident?
I broke thoracic 10 and 11. So there are 12 thoracic bones, there are seven cervical bones. And for me, I broke and really pulverized those two vertebrae. The doctor said it looked like a bad car accident. I was probably going 20 to 30 miles an hour, which doesn't seem fast when you're skiing, but when you fall, it can be fast. So that's what I broke. It corresponds to about belly button (level) as far as sensation. And I have the muscles just below the sternum and sort of corresponding back muscles. So when I started skiing in a monoski, I was in the most disabled of the three classes because I didn't have the ability to lean over onto my legs, like I'm sitting in my wheelchair to lean on to my legs and then sit back up. I don't have the muscles to do that. So once I'm leaning on my thighs, then I really that's where I am until I push myself up with my arms.
Despite your prognosis, how did you retain your passion for skiing?
I was back on snow within the year, 362 days after the accident. I thought about skiing. I did a fair amount of mental imagery when I was training for skiing. And there was nothing I could do while I was lying in the hospital bed. And I thought over and over about skiing. I thought, OK, I'll get back. I won't be healthy for the season, but maybe I'll be able to ski like maybe forerun the Middlebury Carnival, which was always the last race of the year. That's what I initially thought. Nobody told me that I was paralyzed.
What was the catalyst to get you back on skis?
I did believe that I, as an athlete, would be able to create a miracle and recover completely. But at the same time a friend of mine asked me if I would be willing to be in a movie about adaptive skiing, a documentary movie about adaptive skiing. And he asked me about this while I was in the hospital. I said, yes, sure, I will do that. A friend of his was making that movie. And so that to me was the plan.
Had you had any contact with adaptive skiers in the past?
Tom, you knew (Olympic disabled champion) Diana Golden, right? Diana was an amazing person. I saw her at a giant slalom at Burke Mountain the year before my accident. I saw Diana at this race and my first thought was: really? There's a woman with one leg who's coming to this race. But then I watched her ski. To me, she captured what it meant to be an athlete. As ski racers, it's really easy to have all of your excuses before you go through the starting gate. She was somebody who just said, 'look, I'm not going to make any excuses. I don't have time for excuses.' She laid herself bare effectively and just said, 'I'm going to fall down, but I'm going to get back up.' In watching her, I thought, that's the best encapsulation of what it means to be an athlete. I remember thinking, I want to be like Diana, I want to do what she did.
Your pathway to success was very quick.
I actually graduated on skis from Middlebury -- full cap and gown procession. Then I hopped on a plane and flew to Durango for my first first really full-fledged team camp when I was a full time ski racer. So I made the team (2002 Paralympics), which was touch and go.
Early in your career, who helped to inspire you?
Jack Benedick was tougher than nails. I loved Jack. He scared me at times. And he said, 'you're on this team to win medals.' And I thought, 'OK, well, this is it. Like, I've been taking my lumps the whole season. Now I get to go beat up on some people. This is good.' And so I went into Albertville thinking, this is the fun part. This is going to be great. We raced as a team.
Your accomplishment in 1992 was stunning - winning all four medals in your class at the Lillehammer Paralympics just like Jean-Claude Killy.
Jean-Claude Killy was my hero in a lot of ways, I was born in 1968 when he won. He was my father's hero. And I thought, 'OK, this is it. I have a chance to do it.' I had said early on, I don't want to be limited by the disability. I don't want to be defined by the disability. I said I was going to be the fastest monoskier in the world. And to me, that's the definition of skiing. I needed to prove on the biggest stage that I could be the best in the world. In the downhill in Lillehammer, I realized that goal. I was the fastest mono skier in the world in the downhill. Lillehammer was really the pinnacle of my skiing career, realizing that goal and being the fastest in the world.
What prompted you to move to Utah?
I moved to Utah in October of 1999. I thought, 'OK, with these games being here in 2002, I need to be part of that.' I need to be part of the buildup to the games.
Did you see motivational speaking as a natural calling for you after your athletic career ended?
That's a really good question. It is funny, because if you ask me when I was in college, if I would be doing this stuff that I'm doing, I would tell you that you are absolutely crazy because I hated getting in front of a group. I mean, this is the sweaty palms, the shaking knees, the shaking voice. I hated it. Absolutely hated it. And there are a lot of things that I ended up doing that were in some ways, in some ways were vehicles for being able to tell the story that if I didn't have a story, I might not necessarily have done these things.
Do you think the Olympics and Paralympics can return to Utah in 2030 or 2034?
My experience in 2002 was the greatest experience that I've had in the Paralympics. The interaction with the people in Utah was just different than anything else I'd really seen. And we have The Greatest Snow on Earth. We have mountains all within an hour's drive of the airport. We have so many athletes who live and train here. It's a culture of sport. There are a lot of cities that are not interested where the people aren't really that interested in hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics. But the people here in Utah are. And I think it could be a great celebration of sport.
Listen in to Ski Utah's Last Chair episode with Chris Waddell to learn more:
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Tom Kelly: |00:00:00| Chris Waddell, welcome to Last Chair, the Ski Utah podcast. Great to have you join us today. Chris Waddell: |00:00:05|Tom, wonderful to join you and love what you're doing, so happy to be a guest here.
Tom Kelly: |00:00:10| Well, we've known each other for a long time and I've followed your career, so it's really an honor to have you on Last Chair. Where have you been spending your time? I know you were down here in Park City for many years. We were kind of neighbors, and I hear we're going to be neighbors again. But where are you hanging out right now?
Chris Waddell: |00:00:26| We are in Garden City, Utah, which is a town of about 600 people on Bear Lake, which is due north, I guess, of Park City, but it takes about two hours to kind of go east and then northwest. But, yeah, That's where we are. We're renovating a house in Silver Creek.
Chris Waddell: |00:00:44| Silver Creek. So I think I've been following you around. I started in the same neighborhood that you started in in Park City. And now if you're going to move, you need to tell me about it. Because I want to know in advance.
Tom Kelly: |00:00:57| Well, Chris, we love where we live, and I know you're going to love it here, too, so don't look for us to move. So you're up in Garden City. I imagine you had a summer full of raspberry shakes.
Chris Waddell: |00:01:07| No raspberry shakes for me, I don't think I have had a raspberry shake, I don't think I had any of this summer. We tried to lay low as much as we could. I mean, given the whole covid situation, there were a lot of people here in town. And so we tried to say to ourselves as best we could.
Tom Kelly: |00:01:25| Yeah, we were up there this past July, and I don't think we had driven up there in probably 25 or 30 years and we had just a wonderful day over on the Eastern Shore. You're on the western shore. And then we made the loop around the north side, came down to Garden City, tried to get a raspberry shake, but the line was too long. So we headed home. But just know, Chris, we're going to welcome you back here in Park City so you don't have to drive quite so far to go skiing at Deer Valley.
Chris Waddell: |00:01:51| I appreciate that, thank you.
Tom Kelly: |00:01:54| Chris, you've had an amazing career and great to have you on the podcast. You grew up in New England. So to many here in Utah, they may not be familiar with your background. Talk a little bit about your background and growing up in New England and getting into ski racing.
Chris Waddell: |00:02:12| I got into ski racing, I think, really by accident, I grew up in a town called Granby, Massachusetts, which was probably about five thousand people in western Mass. And I said, oh, it's in the Berkshires. And it's like, no, no, we're in the in-between of the Berkshires. And then the other people say, oh, you can't be from Massachusetts because you don't have a Boston accent. I'm forty five minutes west of the accent really is what it comes down to. If anybody knows a small town and Mount Tom was was about ten minutes away. Six hundred and eighty feet of vertical. So, you know, about half the height of the Empire State Building. It was owned by a construction company and the patriarch of the family, a family construction company. Love the mountain. Just loved it. We had spectacular snow making some spectacular lights. It would light up the whole valley, the whole Connecticut River Valley. And we just went there every day. My father started teaching right when we moved to that area. And I saw the kids racing and I was six years old or something. And I said, I want to do that. So I started racing at Mount Tom and we raced on, we trained on the Boulevard, which was just a little double chair, wooden slats. And I mean, it's probably, I don't know, is probably maybe 25 gate slalom and maybe like 15 gates. Maybe I'm exaggerating and it might have been less but that's what we did every day. My father would teach. My father was a teacher and so he would teach skiing. Afterwards my mother started as a ski patroller and then eventually was an instructor as well. So they'd pick us up at school. My brother and I would get into the car, we'd change and I put our warm up pants on over our Levi's or whatever, and we'd go out and ski. And it was just, I fell in love with it. And part of it was the coach. And my first coach was a guy named Rob Broadfoot. And Rob had skied at the University of Maine, Farmington, and then came Down and was Going to graduate school At Springfield College and wanted to continue coaching. And so he coached and, you know, as a six year old, it was like he was my coach, but he was my friend as well. And he's in his middle twenties or whatever. But it was just it was just such a cool thing and it was a different sport than anything I'd ever done. Where you come down and he would say he would say, tell you what you did. Well, I'll tell you what, you could improve. And he was so good at just just propping you up. And I asked him recently, you know, how he looked at that. And he said, well, so many people are going to tell you what you don't do. Well, I wanted to make sure that you knew what you were doing. And so, yeah, he started that. And I went from Mount Tom to Berkshire East, which was, I think, about a thousand feet of vertical. So moving up to the big mountain up in Charlemont, Massachusetts, and then and ski race there basically from fourteen up until up until I graduated from high school and then I skied at Middlebury College. And so I was just preparing really for my first year of competing for the team. And that's when I had my accident was December 20th of 1988.
Tom Kelly: |00:05:29| I want to get back to the accident here in a second, but let's go back to Mount Tom. Having grown up in the Midwest myself, I fully appreciate it. And if you had 670 feet of vertical, we had nothing close to that in the Midwest. But, Chris, I often think about this that, you know, we love our big mountains with two to three thousand feet of vertical. But you can have a whole lot of fun on 600 feet of vertical growing up, can't you?
Chris Waddell: |00:05:53| You really can, and it's not just the fun, I mean, it's the skiing part. And there were times that my brother and I'd be there until nine o'clock at night and and we would ski, we'd train, and then we'd go and jump into somebody else's course or we'd go and ski on one ski. But it was also the community. It was a babysitter for so much of of the local community where people would drop the kids off and say, hey, I'll be back in a couple of hours and pick you up. And we had the run of the mountain, which is something that's kind of funny right now. It's not that you think a six year old kid, you know, you're not going to be left unattended and it's like we'll be fine. You know, back then we were fine. And that was the cool part. And it's fun just to see the friends that I still have from those days. It persists into adulthood.
Tom Kelly: |00:06:44| So let's fast forward now to 1988, when you had the accident. You're an aspiring racer with Middlebury College. You're doing what your passion has led you to do and all of a sudden your life changed in an instant.
Chris Waddell: |00:06:59| It really did, and it's funny because I, I ski race, I didn't go to a ski academy, I went to a prep school, which meant that, you know, we might get to train for an hour, a day or something like that. And it was a much shorter season. And I felt like I'd never given myself the chance to see how good I could be as a ski racer. So going to Middlebury and a lot of ways for me, trying to race there and is going to be trying to race was going to be my Olympics. It was going to be how I proved how good I could possibly be. And so I spent the whole fall really trying to somehow write a new narrative. And and so my goal every day was to push myself in dry land training to the point where I wanted to quit, because if I quit and then moved a little bit beyond that, then it was new territory. And that new possibility could, in my mind, translate into when I got onto snow. And so I was in this complete growth mindset as I was approaching the ski season. And we ski a little bit before Christmas break. We'd gone to Killington a few times and I think gone to Stowe. And I think I raced at Stowe at snow a little bit. But just it was sort of … I was going to get my chance to actually put some time in. And the first day of Christmas vacation, I went home. My brother and I went to Berkshire East and met up with a bunch of the buddies. I won one friend of mine who is skiing at UVM. And there were about I don't know, they're probably six or eight of us. We all skied with a group. And we were going to train, going to train back with my junior coach and. It was a warm, sunny day. It was like a spring day, 20th of December, slushy snow, which was completely unheard of. I mean, Midwest is probably the same thing where you can see that candy wrapper through the ice that somebody had dropped back in October. Right. And but this was warm and sunny and snowy, slushy. And we took a couple of runs, as the coach said, and I was testing a new pair of skis, hadn't been on them yet. And we were going to run slalom and we came down and went back to the racetrack and he wasn't there. So we decided we'd take one more run. And it was just kind of a strange thing. You're trying to find that sense of harmony, I think, in your skiing. Right, because you hadn't really been on snow that long and just trying to find that right feeling. And that's what I was doing and came over a little little knoll and then made a turn and my ski popped off in the middle of a turn. And all I remember is my ski popping off.
Chris Waddell: |00:09:35| I fell in the middle of the trail as best I can recreate it, because I don't remember anything. I was in shock. But my friend, who is even a guy named Jim Schaefer, actually now owns Berkshire East. He was the first one to me. My brother was there soon afterwards and I was just kind of lying on the ground and they were doing their best. It was obvious to them that I'd hurt myself pretty badly. So they were trying to keep me from moving and everything until the ski patrol could come up. And so I don't remember any of it, but I was conscious throughout as best I can reconstruct it. I fell in the middle of the trail and didn't hit anything but the ground. It was just one of those weird falls. I probably had taken what I thought were much worse falls. And had no problem, but this time I did whatever I did, I did it in exactly the right or the wrong way, however you want to look at that.
Tom Kelly: |00:10:30| So you had friends with you, you had some support around you at that time.
Chris Waddell: |00:10:34| I did, I did, I had friends around me, it was probably six or eight of us and and my brother, this guy, Jim Schaefer, who is the first one to me, Tim Flaherty, who is who is who had raced with us and then was coaching Jim's brother, two brothers, I think, one of their friends, you know. So there were a lot of people and you get to know everybody at a small mountain as well. So it was pretty quick that the ski patrol was there and they brought me probably down the hill. An ambulance took me to the hospital, helicopter flew me to the next hospital. And that's when my family really kind of caught up to me. My father had come to the first hospital and it was kind of like a you know, it's like a series of snapshots kind of thing. I remember my ski popping off, then I remember my father looking down at me as I was lying on the gurney in the first hospital. And I thought, oh, I'm in trouble. I'm in trouble. And then it kind of faded to black a little bit. I mean, not not that I went unconscious or anything. I just don't remember it. And then remember waiting for the helicopter and being cold. But when I landed at the second hospital, obviously they did all sorts of tests and everything.
Chris Waddell: |00:11:49| And my parents and my brother were in the waiting room, which they describe as this, this really small waiting room. And it was just them and it was just ... time just kept ticking and ticking and just hours. And finally a doctor came out and he said, your son's broken his back, he'll never walk again. And he turned and he left and they were left to make sense of it on their own. And it was just such a an incredibly traumatic thing. My father said something that was pretty amazing, as he doesn't remember it, but my mother remembered it and he said he said because they all cried and he said, look, that's the last time we can cry. We have to be strong for Chris. And that to me captures who my family is - that it was this sense of resilience. It wasn't about them. It was about how they could give me the best opportunity to heal. And they gave me a great opportunity. I was really in charge of my own health and moving forward. And, you know, I think they had my mother help me fill out an application to study abroad while I was in the hospital. I think she was looking at me going, I don't know how this is going to work, but, OK, let's just go through with it and see how it plays out and then I was in the hospital for two months, which was a relatively short period of time back then. And I left on Friday and returned to Middlebury two days later on Sunday.
Tom Kelly: |00:13:21| What was the nature of your disability and has it evolved at all since that time?
Chris Waddell: |00:13:29| So what I did is I broke thoracic 10 and 11. So there are 12 thoracic bones, there are seven cervical bones, which is really like breaking your neck. And for me, I broke and really pulverized, I guess those two those two vertebrae. The doctor said it looked like a bad car accident, which, you know, which is one of those things where on the Hill. And I was probably going 20 to 30 miles an hour, which doesn't seem fast when you're skiing, but when you fall, it can be fast. And so. So, yeah. So that's what I broke. It corresponds to about belly button as far as sensation. And really I have the muscles just below the sternum and sort of corresponding back muscles. So when I started skiing in a monoski, I'm getting ahead of myself here, Tom. But I'll finish that thought. I was in the most disabled of the three classes because I don't have the ability to sort of, like, lean over onto my legs, like I'm sitting in my wheelchair to lean on to my legs and then sit back up. I don't have the muscles to do that. So once I'm leaning on my thighs, then I really that's where I am until I push myself up with my arms.
Tom Kelly: |00:14:41| You know, Chris, one of the things that's always amazed me about that accident and your return to sport is you had so many things to look at in your life, so many things that were changing for you just in an instant. But skiing seemed to be one of the top things on your list. You were back on snow within a year of that accident.
Chris Waddell: |00:15:05| I was back on snow within the year, within a year, three hundred and sixty two days actually after the accident and I thought about skiing. I mean, we did you know, I did a fair amount of mental imagery when I was training for skiing. And there was nothing I could do while I was lying in the hospital bed. And I thought over and over about skiing and thought and really at that time, I thought, OK, I'll get back. I won't be healthy for the season, but maybe I'll be able to ski like maybe forerun the Middlebury Carnival, which was always the last race of the year. That's what I initially thought. Nobody told me that I was paralyzed. That doctor who initially told my parents had demonstrated a fairly miserable bedside manner. And they protected me. They didn't want me to, they didn't want me to be labeled that my life was essentially over. And so they, yeah, nobody told me really that I was paralyzed. And so I kind of made it up myself. I was thinking, OK, I kind of understand what's going on here. I did believe that I, as an athlete, would be able to create a miracle and recover completely. But at the same time a friend of mine asked me if I would be willing to be in a movie about adaptive skiing, a documentary movie about adaptive skiing. And he asked me about this while I was in the hospital. I said, yes, sure, I will do that. A friend of his was making that movie. And so that to me was the plan. And if you step back, Tom, I know you know or knew Diana Golden.
Tom Kelly: |00:16:46| Yes, very well.
Chris Waddell: |00:16:47| Yeah. And Diana was an amazing person. I saw her at a giant slalom at Burke Mountain the year before my accident. And I'd never seen like - I remember seeing one guy with outriggers in like the Christmas lift line at Mount Tom when I was a kid, you know, back when it used to when you were really in the corral, when it was a forty five minute lift line and you're going back and forth and back and forth. And I remember seeing a guy, but I never saw him ski. I'd never seen anybody ski in a monoski. But I saw Diana at this race and my first thought was really. Huh. All right. There's a woman with one leg who's coming to this race and OK. But then I watched her ski and to me, she captured what it meant to be an athlete, that we as athletes often protect ourselves so much. Right. As ski racers. It's really easy to have all of your excuses before you go through the starting gate. And and she was somebody who is just who just said, look, I'm not going to make any excuses. I don't have time for excuses. She laid herself bare effectively and just said, I'm going to fall down, but I'm going to get back up. And and in watching her, I thought that's the best encapsulation of what it means to be an athlete, to to know that you're going to fail.
Chris Waddell: |00:18:11| But know that that failure is not going to stop you and that you're not going to try to soften the blow of the failure before it happens. And I saw Diana and a lot of ways I gained a hero that day, as probably did a lot of the other racers. But when I was in the hospital, I remember thinking and when I first started skiing in a monoski, I remember thinking, I want to be like Diana, I want to do what she did. And in a lot of ways, like, you know, like Julie Parisien was in that race, you know, there were right after she had made the ski team. And, you know, there were some really good skiers in that race. But Diana and a lot of ways was bigger than all of them. And I wanted to follow in her footsteps. So, yeah. So three hundred and sixty two days, my coach at Middlebury, Bart Bradford, called me up right after I returned to school in the fall and he said, hey, come on down here, I've got an idea. And so I went down there and he had been at a junior development camp out at Mount Hood during the summertime, and obviously you've been to Mt. Hood and it's just a wide open snow field where it's just like a football field, sort of with lanes where there are, I don't know, what, 15, 20 of them or something like that and so you see everybody who's next to you. And the disabled team, it was actually the disabled team not the adaptive team back then. And he saw these guys skiing in a monoski. And Jennifer Kennedy, who was a coach, had skied for him when he was previously at UVM. So Bart said to me, hey, I saw these guys skiing. I think you should do this. Like, we're going to buy you a monoski. And the friends of Middlebury skiing bought my first mono ski for me. And I you know, I it came in on the 17th, I think, sixteenth or seventeenth. I skied on the seventeenth, so probably came in on the 16th. Bach put it together. He got one of his best buddies, Boomer Mumford gave me some skis. He was with Kaestle at the time, gave me some skis and I still have my uniform jacket. And we went out there and. And he said to me, well, what do you want to do? I said, I don't know. Like we go to the top, right? I mean, I'd always known how to make a turn, and I fell all over. I didn't make one turn that first day, Tom.
Tom Kelly: |00:20:32| You know, I'm just trying to imagine this and knowing the mentality that you had as an able bodied ski racer trying to convert that into this plastic tub, and I imagine that this monoski was not exactly what monoskis evolved to over the course of your career, was it?
Chris Waddell: |00:20:50| It wasn't, but I skied in that monoski that was a Shadow monoski, which was developed by a guy named Jim Martinson, Jim had lost both legs to a bouncing betty in Vietnam. And for him, skiing was such a part of the culture. I think he has four or five brothers and it is a part of the culture of his family. And he wanted to introduce it to his kids. And so he said, oh, well, I'll develop this thing and then they'll get too good and they'll leave me and that'll be OK. And Jim, I think at sixty three or sixty five years old called me up and he said he and I skied on the on the US team for a while together, but at sixty three or sixty five years old he called me up and said, hey can you get me into that monoskier X in the X Games you know in his middle 60s. And, and I said yeah sure I can get you into that. And that's, that's who he was. He became another hero for me. I mean he's the you know, he's now 74 years old and still has the mentality of a 15 year old. He's going to charge as hard as he can. And he called him his nephews, but they really are his great nephews. And when I saw him recently said to them, you know, Uncle Jim, you go bigger than anybody and it's still true that he does. And so that was a Shadow monoski. And I use that Shadow monoski through nineteen ninety eight. So really for the first 10 years of my career and and it was, you know, wasn't as high tech as they are now, but it was something, it did a lot of things really well let you put the energy into the ski. And for me as a former able bodied skier, that was the important part. I didn't want it to be different. I didn't want it to be sort of this watered down version of the sport, because skiing is you know, skiing is about speed. It's about the time. But it's also a beautiful sport. I mean, I feel like it crosses over with ballet in a lot of ways where, like when you watch somebody do well, it is just it is just spectacularly beautiful. And that's part of what brought me back to it in the Shadow Monoski, allowed me to do that. It has continued to evolve. I ski on what's called a dime access now, which is, these guys wanted me to try it out they said, well, well, we're coming into Park City and we'd love for you to try out our ski. I was doing a presentation in Sarajevo, in Bosnia. And I was going to get home the day before. They wanted me to ski with them. And I thought, I'll be happy to come ski in your ski, but just know it's going to be miserable. I will be on three planes. I will fly for like twenty hours before before I arrive there, I will be all contorted. And I got into the ski and I felt like I couldn't fall over. I really did. I felt like, wow, this is what has changed. And and and Yocum, the guy who is the engineer is a professor at Lehigh and he teaches mechanical engineering. But he also I think his Ph.D. is an aeronautical engineering. He's built his own airplanes. He's flown his own airplanes that he's built. So he's a guy who is not just sort of the garage version of engineering, which is really ultimately where we started, which was great. But it's really cool to see it, to see it progressing because we need those kinds of people in need. Those people like Yocum to be able to do that because it's a small number of people. There aren't economies of scale. You're not going to mass produce thousands and thousands of monoskis. So it's really cool that there are some people with some great knowledge who are pushing it forward. And obviously the athletes have been important with that as well.
Tom Kelly: |00:24:48| Chris, we're going to take a short break and be right back. And when we come back, I want to talk about your Paralympic career. You know, going back to that day that you got on the monoski for the very first time, it was just two years later and you were at the Paralympics ultimately going on to win 12 winter and one summer medal.
|00:25:05| We're with Chris Waddell, Paralympic champion and a proud Utah skier. We'll be right back with Last Chair, the Ski Utah podcast presented by High West Distillery.
|00:25:19| And welcome back. We're with Chris Waddell, Paralympic champion, and Chris, before the break, we were starting to talk a little bit about your Paralympic career and what are the things to that? What amazes me is that with just really two years experience in the monoski, you went to the 1992 Paralympics in Albertville, France, and you came back with medals. Quite amazing. Quick progress.
Chris Waddell: |00:25:46| It was amazing progress, I actually graduated, so I graduated on skis from Middlebury, Middlebury, I believe is the only college in North America that has a skiing graduation. So full cap and gown procession. And I graduated from Middlebury, hopped on a plane and flew to Durango for my first first really full fledged team camp when I was a full time ski racer. So did that, made the team, which was touch and go. They combined a lot of classes going into Albertville. So I remember I had a conversation with Stefan Hiensch, who is our head coach at our Keystone camp. We would often have our first camp of the modern skiers, would have our first camp of the season at Keystone in Colorado. And he and I got on the lift. It was the first lift ride of the year, just the two of us. And he said so well, I just want to let you know that they're combining a lot of classes. They're limiting quotas, because at that point we had 13 different classes and there were three classes of mono skiers and typically they had three slots per class. And what they did is they combined a bunch of classes. So we went from three monoski classes to two monoski classes. And all the guys from the class above me were coming into my class. And then we only had one slot per class. So I think we were able to ski like nine or 10 U.S. skiers. And so that was blind skiers or visually impaired skiers, amputees, you know, arm amputees like amputees. So all across the board. And I got on the lift with Stefan and he said, you know, they're combining all these classes. Just want you to know that most likely you're not going to make the team. And this is the brashness of youth, I believe. I told him, well, if I don't make the team, then I'm probably going to be done. I'm going to because I saw all of my friends who are graduating from college who are going and starting careers. And I figured if I don't get a chance to compete on the highest level, I'm not going to get to go anywhere. And I was touch and go throughout the whole season just trying to figure out how I might be able to make that team. And I at the at the last race, they named the team and everybody was staying at the hotel at the the Raintree Hotel in Winter Park, Colorado, and I was staying I was staying with one of my teammates because I had sort of slept on their couch for a long time with with Sarah Will and Matt Feeney who were roommates there.
Chris Waddell: |00:28:23| And they let me graciously let me stay on their couch. And so I wasn't there. For the team meeting where they announced the team and I got onto the bus the next in the van the next day to go to the airport, and the guy who had been the guy in my class, Peter Axelson, prior, was sitting in the front seat and he said to me, well, congratulations. And I said, well, congratulations about what? And he said, well, you've made the team. And Jennifer Kennedy was driving that van. And I said, Really? Have I made the team like us? Because for me, it was very much up in the air. But I made the team the hardest part and a lot of ways was getting there. You remember Jack Benedict, who is the leader of our team, and and Jack said. You are on this team to win medals, you're not on the team to do anything else, you're on the team to win medals. And you remember how Jack was. I believe Jack was a double amputee, but I think he was the first amputee in Vietnam, double amputee to stay in active duty. After losing his legs and that.
Tom Kelly: |00:29:29| Yes, that's correct.
Chris Waddell: |00:29:30| That represents who Jack was, Jack was, you know, that that whole tougher than nails kind of thing. I mean, that that really was who Jack was. I loved Jack. He scared me at times. And he said, you're on this team to win medals. And I thought, OK, well, this is it. Like, I've been taking my lumps the whole season. Now I get to go beat up on some people. This is good. And so I went into Albertville thinking, this is the fun part. This is going to be great. We raced as a team. We got about three feet of snow while we were there. I raced slalom and giant slalom. I was going to do the training runs of the downhill, but it was a total whiteout. And then they ended up sort of shifting the schedule and having the slalom first. And so once that happened, they said, OK, that's it. No more no more downhill for you, which was a huge relief really for me. I was not I was not a natural downhill and certainly not a downhill or at that point. And yet in the slalom, the monoskiers skiers actually had a better chance of winning medals than some of the people in the other classes.
Chris Waddell: |00:30:33| And so there were two of us in my class, Mike McDougal and I, and he had beaten me all year long and I got them that day. So I got him for a silver medal. There was an Austrian guy who ended up winning the gold. And then and then a few days later, I actually think it was toward the end was the giant slalom and it was that same guy, Reinhold Sager. And I got him the first round of the giant slalom. So I was leading the first run of the giant slalom. And Chad Colley was the other US guy. And I think Chad had gone out. And so I was the US representative and it was just a whiteout. It is one of those whiteout days. And I hit a bump and kind of kind of got a little bit squirrelly and stayed in the course. And he ended up getting me by, I think, two tenths of a second. And so I ended up with two with two silver medals. But that really launched my Paralympic career.
Tom Kelly: |00:31:29| So four years later, actually, two years later, because Lillehammer was in that little cycle change that we did with the Olympics, but you went in as more or less a favorite and you came out with a bundle of medals and in fact, you won all four. And when I think about this, I think back to great skiers like Jean Claude Killy, who won all the medals in Grenoble, or Tony Sailer, who did the same in Cortina in 1956. So you went into Lillehammer and you took all four gold.
Chris Waddell: |00:32:00| Jean-Claude Killy was my hero in a lot of ways, I was born in 1968 when he won. I was in all three races at that point and and he was my father's hero. Right, because skiing skiing was kind of, you know, with Stein Eriksen, with Jean-Claude Killy, it wasn't really a full American sport. We were taking a bit of what we saw from the Europeans. It was sort of trickling in here. And he was my father's hero. And I thought, OK, this is it. I have a chance to do it. I had said early on, and I think this is some of the influence of Diana that I didn't want to be. I don't want to be limited by the disability. I don't want to be defined by the disability. And so I said even though I was in the most disabled of the three monoski classes, I said that I was going to be the fastest monoski in the world. And I made the mistake of saying that to one of my teammates who also was in my class. And he said to me, You will never beat those guys. And and he had a really good point. I said that and I was probably 30 seconds behind these guys. And if you talk about 30 seconds in a downhill at 60 miles an hour, that's like a half a mile behind. So I was considerably behind them, but I said I was going to be the fastest monoskier in the world. And to me, that's the definition of skiing. I mean, skiing is such a funny sport where you can look at a, you know, the top seed of skiers and there's not a single body type. There's not that you say, oh, well, this guy is going to be faster than that guy or this woman is going to be faster than that woman. There are always the people who surprise you. And I wanted to be that guy. I wanted it to be about skiing. And so 93 was really my breakthrough year when I was really full time. I went to Vail, Colorado, moved to Vail, Colorado, got my equipment dialed in a whole lot better. And, you know, and I had to figure out some of this stuff, Tom, I was I was dating Sarah Will at the time, who is the best female monoskier? And I said I was going to be the best in the world, but I was not the best in my house. She was still beating me by a considerable bit when we first moved to Vail. And I figured some stuff out and she had gone and done a camp up at Alyeska In Alaska. She was coaching some people and she came back and I had made the transformation and we did a town race at Beaver Creek, which was just amazing. I mean, we're doing a town race that was there was on Centennial that was on the, you know, the bottom of the World Cup. It was a great, great way to do it. And and I finally beat her and I thought, OK in beating Sarah, which is this is really a testament to how good she really was. I thought, well, if I can beat Sarah, I might have a chance to beat everybody and came to Park City and raced against Jim Martinson, who had been the standard bearer and beat him in the slalom in Park City. That was the first time that I had beaten him. So I beat him in the slalom and then and then picked up Dave Kiley later on that year. And then and then actually at U.S. Nationals, I swept all four events, wrought-iron what we call raw time. Now, it's a factor time. And so this was a straight up time. And so going into Lillehammer, yeah, I was I was thinking that the one I had, I had a chance, I mean, one, I really should win all four races in my class, that there really shouldn't be anybody who could beat me. But I also needed to prove on the biggest stage that I could be the best in the world and in the downhill in Lillehammer, I realized that goal. I was the fastest mono skier in the world in the downhill. And so my class went first and I sat there and nobody in my class beat me. Nobody in the next class beat me, which is really the class is paralyzed from the waist down. And then nobody in the other class, which are the double amputees, some guys with some some nerve damage and maybe maybe, you know, a couple of other problems or something. But there was one guy who actually walked well enough that I was pushing through deep snow and he asked me if he could give me a hand getting through the deep snow at one point. And I beat off all of those guys. And that, to me, in Lillehammer was really the pinnacle of my skiing career, realizing that goal and being the fastest in the world.
Tom Kelly: |00:36:23| Did you have a conversation with your teammate who didn't think you could do it?
Chris Waddell: |00:36:28| I have never had that conversation with him, I've told the story numerous times, but. I've never had that conversation with him, it would be kind of interesting to go back to it and say, did see it actually can work. And, you know, monoskiing was relatively young. It was sort of still in its infancy there. So, you know, I think that part of it was defining what was possible.
Tom Kelly: |00:36:56| Well, part of establishing goals is the ability and the courage to put them on the wall and to tell people this is what I'm shooting for. And, you know, we learned this in my time at the U.S. ski team that you got to put those goals on the wall. You gotta be bold. That's the only way you're going to reach the
Chris Waddell: |00:37:14| It is and you're held responsible to that, you say it out loud than other people know. If not, we're our own easiest person to lie to, right? And it's like, oh, well, that's what I said. But, you know, I didn't really I didn't really know enough. I didn't really mean it's like, OK, if you mean it, say it out loud because other people are going to hold you to it.
Tom Kelly: |00:37:34| Absolutely, Chris, along the way, you made a choice to actually move to Utah. What prompted that decision in the late 90s?
Chris Waddell: |00:37:43| So I moved to Utah in October of ninety nine, I think I closed on my house and then two days later hopped on a plane and went to Europe to go train on the glacier. So, you know, I moved there, one, I had finally kind of made enough money that I didn't have to. I didn't have to retreat to my parents house after going broke throughout the winter. And so so in some ways, as much as I traveled, it was probably an expensive storage unit, but at least I was in a storage unit that was gaining equity. But in six one of my teammates. So I raced wheelchair's as well. And Atlanta was my first games. And a guy named Scot Hollenbeck was one of my teammates. And he ended up doing an internship with Coca-Cola, which was a big sponsor of the games. And I saw him as a spokesman for the Paralympics. I think the Paralympics in a lot of ways is easy, and in some ways with the Olympic sports as well, it's easy to feel like a peripheral sport. Right? We're not football, basketball, baseball. We're something that people care about every four years and certainly for the Olympics. And at that time, the Paralympics, people really didn't know what it was. And there was a huge responsibility as an athlete too. Promote the games to grow the games to to achieve success for the games, there was an ownership and and I saw what Scott did in Atlanta and I thought, OK, with these games being here in 2002, I need to be part of that. I need to be part of the buildup to the games.
Chris Waddell: |00:39:19| I need to be part of selling the games and making sure that people know that it's here. So I moved in ninety nine. And the other part of it, Tom, is that we always came to I think we did the Huntsman Cup usually in January and it was always spectacular, whether it was like t shirt, whether I, I did a talk for the retail or the, the Real Estate Association through Marny Schlopy and I stayed with the show biz prior to the race. So I came in a couple of days earlier, days earlier, something like that. And I was leaving their house and I said to Kent, I said I said, you know, this is beautiful. And he looked at me, you know, I mean, granted, there might be a little bit of a little bit of bias on being a real estate agent. But he said it's like this. Three hundred and twenty days a year. This is why we moved here. And I kind of filed that away. And Marni ended up buying or not buying, she ended up selling me my first house. And so I had known my brother Matt had gone to school with Erik and Keri and all of that. And so we'd known them for a long time. And I filed away and said, OK, Park City has nice weather, too. This is a good thing to do. So, yeah, I moved to Park City. I always love Park City and it was a great place to be.
Tom Kelly: |00:40:36| You know, you ultimately did serve an amazing role leading up to 2002, you did come away with some medals. But the real story, I think, of what you did there really came with the torch. Can you tell us a little bit about what you did and the emotion that went with that moment?
Chris Waddell: |00:40:52| Yeah, so I actually I have a couple of torch stories, which I also have a couple of torches as well, which is one of the things I don't know that people realize this, but when you when you get to carry the torch, you get the opportunity to buy that torch that you carried. And so they have been prominently displayed on my trophy case. I mean, it's amazing to be the custodian of this flame that is representative of all that the Olympics and the Paralympics is about. And so working with the Games, I was able to carry the torch the day that it arrived in Salt Lake City prior to the Olympics. So there were sixty thousand people downtown on State Street in front of the city and county building. And they always tell you, you know, relish this time, don't go too fast, and there's 60,000 people who are who are who are clapping excuse me, and it's hard it's hard not to go too fast as long as you're carrying this torch, as you're just buoyed by by this wave of applause. And I carried it with three other people who are really heroes. I mean, Steve Mahre was one of the last four. He was on the bus with me.
Chris Waddell: |00:42:12| He was a guy who'd been on my wall as a kid. John Stockton, obviously the point guard of the Utah Jazz, Kristi Yamaguchi, who is just phenomenal as a figure skater. And and and the best part is, is one of the things that's really kind of funny. And they tell you that that will be the best part of carrying the torch, will be your time with the other people who are going to carry the torch. And I remember that Prince Albert was on and he had his entourage of cameras and people and handlers and all of this stuff. And he was in the front and we were all in the back. And John Stockton and Steve Mahre were keeping it like for everybody, they were there giving people a hard time and sort of making sure that we didn't get too uptight about all of what we were about to do. And Steve, Mark called up to Prince Albert and he said, hey, hey, Prince, what do we call you? And he came back and said, Albert would be fine. And it was great to get this because he also was an Olympian. He drove a bobsled in three or four games, I believe.
Chris Waddell: |00:43:20| And so this is really very cool to to, you know, to be part of that, to get to light the cauldron in front of 60,000 people. My friend Jim Schaefer, whom I mentioned, who is the first guy to me after my accident, he was on the on the stage as I was lighting the cauldron. And so for two kids from from a small mountain in Massachusetts to be able to to share this time and to share the journey of where we went in our lives was was really cool to be able to say, wow, you never you never thought you get out of a small town and you really did and and are part of one of the most important things. And what was it? Probably it was a month later, right. Because the Paralympics started a month later, I was able to light the cauldron in the stadium in the Rice stadium with probably 50,000 and to be part of the start of the games, that was really that to me was just it was one of the coolest moments. And to be able to share that with all those people and say, yes, now, now it's going to be the exciting part.
Tom Kelly: |00:44:32| Chris, you said once it's not what happens to you, it's what you do with what happens to you. And you had an illustrious career as a Paralympic athlete, but it really positioned you well to give back to others. And after your retirement, following the Salt Lake City, your career has been spent as an inspirational, motivational speaker. You have worked in advocacy for many causes. Did you see that as a natural calling for you after your athletic career ended?
Chris Waddell: |00:45:06| That's a really good question. It is funny, Tom, because if you ask me when I was in college, if I would be doing this stuff that I'm doing, I would tell you that you are absolutely crazy because I hated getting in front of a group. I mean, this is the sweaty palms, the shaking knees, the shaking voice. I hated it. Absolutely. Absolutely hated it. And there are a lot of things that I ended up doing that were in some ways, in some ways were vehicles for being able to tell the story that if I didn't have a story, I might not necessarily have done these things. But I felt like. Learning how to monoski, learning how to learn how to monoski well then learning how to be a wheelchair racer, I learned a lot of things the hard way and it's not what happens to you. It's what you do with what happens to you. It's easy for people to say, you know, that's that's a product of. Of having had an accident, that it's like, OK, well, bad things are going to happen to all of us and it's not really that's a product of being a ski racer that the best ski racers to me are the ones who can perform in all conditions when everything's going against them, in the nerves, in the whatever it is, and still be able to perform the way that they've prepared.
Chris Waddell: |00:46:35| That is, I think to me and a lot of ways that the highest compliment that you can pay to somebody, is that you performed the way that you prepared. And I always wanted to be one of those. But something's always going to go wrong. And the idea of it's not what happens to you, it's what you do is what happens to you. It's like, OK, things are going to go wrong. But let's make this work. Let's not, it's not a time to give up. It's a time to say this is the greatest opportunity for me to prove how good I really am. And and it's sort of like as an athlete, I didn't get paid. I did win some prize money here and there wasn't enough to buy sushi dinner, but it wasn't necessarily enough to support me. And so I got paid to tell my story, to make sense of my story. My sponsorships were not really there based anecdotally almost on my performance, but they were based more on my ability to to convey my story in a meaningful way to an audience both in person and via the media.
Chris Waddell: |00:47:45| So that's what I ended up doing, is it's where I found some success. It's also where I realized that I really enjoyed it, that it was the performance. And after the thing that I miss most from my competing days is, is that critical moment when it comes down to, OK, here it is. You've done all of this preparation. Now it really matters. Can you put it together? And that's what getting on stage is for me right now, is that opportunity to perform when it matters. I guess I must love the nerves and some sort of a risk taking. So, yeah, I never thought I would do it, but in a lot of ways it is. It is it makes a lot of sense, and it also is. A lifetime pursuit where I can continue to get better, where I can continue to stretch myself, and that was that was probably the greatest appeal of being an athlete, is seeing the results of the transformation and the transformation that I orchestrated.
Tom Kelly: |00:48:53| You know, as an athlete, you oftentimes need to change directions very quickly, and one of the things, Chris, I've admired in you is in the last year as a public speaker, standing on stages with thousands of people, it's all changed. I'm experiencing this myself as well because I'm in that same business. But you've had to really change direction in the last eight months, haven't you?
Chris Waddell: |00:49:17| I have had to change direction in the last eight months that I have not done one in person speech, I've done speeches, virtual speeches where I have the computer looking back at me, I put together I felt badly for a lot of the graduating seniors last year. And in 2011, I had done a commencement address at Middlebury College and NPR put it on the list of greatest commencement speeches ever. And I thought, OK, maybe I can sort of reprise this role, this speech and do it. And so were you talking to my iPhone? Looking at myself, I did a commencement address. And you want to talk about a really difficult audience. The most difficult audience is the one where you see yourself as you're talking. So to do that, we pivoted. I've been working on a television show. We've shot two episodes of it. It's called Chris Waddell Living It, in which we have an expert with a disability who teaches an adventure to two able-bodied people. The last one we shot was bobsledding in Park City. We got to drive a bobsled, which sounds like a ton of fun and ended up being really scary because I didn't feel like I was prepared at all. And then you made it through and thought, well, that really was a ton of fun. So it worked out great. But there was definitely the scary part. And I pivoted to a podcast and so doing a podcast called Living It and also doing a live podcast for my foundation. And it's called Name Tags Chat. And we do that Wednesdays for an hour straight and we stream it right to right to Facebook. And so so it's been really fun to kind of see how these things work. But yeah, Tom, it's the same. I think my transformation to being able to speak was at a secondary rehab place that I went to for spinal cord injuries, place called Shake a Leg. At the end of the summer, they brought an off Broadway company to the program and they put on a play and they asked me if I wanted to audition. And I said no, because really at that. It was about walking. The only way that I could be whole was to walk again. And so I had straight leg braces that had just arrived and I thought, this is it. I'm going to get up and I'm going to be up 50 percent of the time. And I don't have any time for that. I said, you know, I don't do that kind of thing. I'm an athlete. And they said, well, just just. You know, just just audition and. It was. I actually got cast as the as the lead in the play, some of it was was really difficult. It was pretty much like a tutorial that the two guys who are partners in the company, Manhattan Class Company, are Bernie Telsey, who is the who is the casting representative to the Oscars, to the Academy Awards. That and and Bobby Lipton, who was the original lead on Chorus Line. The woman who played my girlfriend was a professional actress. And so it was basically the three of them. It felt a little bit like abuse. It was all good natured. But but yeah. And they made me do scenes in gibberish. They made me do they made me act without without speaking. They made me do a wide variety of different things that completely stretched me out of my comfort zone. But it also went what it came down to was can can you find can you find the sanity in a crazy moment? Can you can you be able to center yourself and and perform in the moment? And that's that's that was probably one of the greatest lessons that I've ever had. And the thing that I'm trying to remind myself as I'm doing these speeches and wondering if anybody'still listening to me, if my compute has frozen and if I've just been talking to myself for the last forty five minutes. So it's there definitely. Yeah. There have been a lot of challenges, a lot of challenges in this last eight months.
Tom Kelly: |00:53:27| I love that finding sanity in the crazy moment. I mean, that's every day for us right now, isn't it,
Chris Waddell: |00:53:35| It really is. That's for sure.
Tom Kelly: |00:53:37| Chris? As we wind down, I want to bring it back to today. And you are also involved in the efforts in Salt Lake City and in Utah to bring the Olympics and the Paralympics back. It will be hopefully 20, 30 or 2034. But in your role as one of the co-chairs of the Athlete Utah Athletes Advisory Council, what are your thoughts on the opportunity that we have here in Utah to bring the games back and get the Paralympics in the Olympics back here in Utah in the future?
Chris Waddell: |00:54:10| My experience in 2002 was the greatest experience that I've had really in the Paralympics. I mean, I won all four races and Lillehammer, which was pretty amazing. And that was that it was a different, that was a different kind of thing. But the interaction with the people in Utah was just different than anything else I'd really seen. I mean, I think the only one I could compare it to would be Sydney. And the Australians are obviously famous for their embracing of sport. But it was just I mean, it's such a phenomenal area. And we have The Greatest Snow on Earth. We have mountains all within an hour's drive of the airport. We have like 12 or 14 mountains. Right. We have so many athletes who live and train here. It's a culture of sport. We have bluebird, sunny days, and I think that I think that really the biggest thing about having the games back here is that it's a receptive community. There are a lot of cities that are not interested in where people aren't really that interested in hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics. But the people here in Utah are. And I think that what it could be is it could be a great celebration of sport being involved on the athletes council athletes in many ways. Are they? Well, probably in the biggest way are our greatest resource. For the games, they are our connection to the games. They are the story that makes it all makes sense. And we have so many athletes in this area.
Chris Waddell: |00:55:53| I mean, over a hundred athletes in this area. That will be part of the games and it's I find that that it's one that we see on television, but it's also being able to learn from the people who have been there what it really means. Because to me, competing on this level, it is the greatest representation of what it means to be a human of what it means to. To set a goal to push ourselves beyond whatever we thought we could do and then to be able to seize that moment, I mean, it's the being an athlete is is a lifetime's work for the hope of a moment of glory that you can perform in that moment, but also preparing for that moment and knowing that you're going to put your best effort forward. And it's not always going to manifest itself in winning a medal. But hopefully it does manifest itself in realizing the performance that you had been striving for and working for for so long. And so I think that it's I mean, it's a selfish thing in some ways. Like, I just want the Games back here because I want people to be able to experience it. I want my neighbors to be able to experience the greatest thing in sport. And I really hope that we're able to get it back soon. And we have an amazing, amazing, amazing team. And so I can't imagine that we won't. But I really can't imagine that we won't.
Tom Kelly: |00:57:33| It's been interesting for me to watch this and see how the broader committee, which was formed only nine months ago, has such respect for athletes and the role that they've placed. U.S. speed skater Catherine Raney and is one that is truly respected. And you are starting to engage athletes. And the organizing group is really listening to that.
Chris Waddell: |00:57:57| The organizing group really is listening to it, and I think that that. I've been blown away. I mean, I really have been blown away by our leadership, you know, and certainly coming first from Fraser. Fraser, who was Mitt's right-hand man in 2002 who's lived it, but I mean, he. You know, I just absolutely love the way that he leads, I mean, he's a guy who believes nothing, nothing undone. I mean, he's so prepared, but he's also so conscious of everybody else around it and looking at like Cindy Crane and Jeff Robins and Colin Hilton and and but yeah, I look at I look at this group and think it is about the athletes, it's about the community. And it's hopefully going to be about the future. But yeah, I look at Fraser Bullock and I just think, wow, like Fraser, like he's a graduate class and leadership, really. So it's been wonderful to work with him and with the work with the whole group.
Tom Kelly: |00:59:13| Well, I know well, I know they're happy to have you in that role, Chris, and it's been a real joy to talk with. You were down to the final stretch of what I call fresh tracks. This will be a series of short questions with hopefully simple answers and no right or wrong here. But just to learn a little bit more about you before we wind up. So are you ready to go, Chris?
Chris Waddell: |00:59:35| I am ready, I'm a little nervous, but I'm ready.
Tom Kelly: |00:59:38| Don't be too nervous, I'll be easy on you,
Chris Waddell: |00:59:40| Pretty simple one right out of the chute. We've talked a lot about skiing, but what do you like to do outdoors other than skiing? What sort of activity is really exciting for you when you're not in the monoski?
Chris Waddell: |00:59:52| The biggest thing that I do outdoors other than skiing is is hand cycling, so it's my version of road biking and I get to ride with my wife. We're living on Bear Lake, which is 50 miles around the circumference of the lake. And so we do that fairly, fairly regularly. We've done - it's been kind of fun - It's sort of like you never leave being an athlete. But to go and do some other some other events, like some century rides, we've done the NAC Summit Challenge Ride. Which is probably one of the most brutal one hundred milers that I've done, but an amazing ride, so, so really hand cycling.
Tom Kelly: |01:00:34| Ok, a lot of people don't know this, but you are also not just a public speaker, but you are an author and you've written an entire line of children's books. What is the most difficult thing for you in writing a children's book?
Chris Waddell: |01:00:47| Writing a children's book, writing the story is is almost what I imagine like writing a song is where you get an idea and you can go right through it and you can do it in one sitting and it's done pretty quickly. The illustration I had to teach myself how to draw and some of it actually looks like what I intended to draw. I hope that at some point my greatest hope is that my mistakes become intentional at some point as opposed to just accidental. But the illustration is the hardest par
Tom Kelly: |01:01:21| Chris, you can always tell the audience that isn't what I am, that is what I intended to do.
Chris Waddell: |01:01:26| That's a good point. Thank you.
Tom Kelly: |01:01:29| So, Chris, you have earned many, many honors in your career. You are a member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame class of 2009. You have been recognized by the Dalai Lama. You have been one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people. There's all of these honors. What's the most notable one in your mind?
Chris Waddell: |01:01:53| What's the most notable one, I was wondering where you were going, because I figured that the People magazine would make its way in there, Which, funny enough, People magazine did. ... It was the greatest opportunity for me to make a living as an athlete. And People magazine legitimized me much more so than all of the medals that I won in the eyes of a lot of people, which is kind of funny. And, you know, it's just the way it works. But what is the greatest one? Wow. I mean, it is hard. This is probably like picking a favorite child, right. That the Dalai Lama, it was amazing to be able to be in his presence. I think you felt like you stepped into this corona of light to be in a place of peace and happiness and joy. This past November, I got inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame. And that might be the highest one in some ways, just in that it's with a lot of my heroes. I mean, I have a picture here, a black and white of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium in Mexico in 1968. And they were inducted last year as well. So so to be able to share it with some of those people that you realize that that was a moment in my life, but. The impact continues to go forward and there's a responsibility.
Tom Kelly: |01:03:33| I think. I think that's a great one, Chris, a lot of honors kind of moving away from that. Another little known fact you have done comedy. And for the life of me, Chris, I don't know how you have the courage to go in and do comedy, but what's your favorite joke?
Chris Waddell: |01:03:54| What's my favorite joke? You know, it's funny and you're being generous in saying that I do comedy because I have done open mic night, I don't know that it was that anybody else would call it comedy. But but so let me let me give you like so I, I lived on Kingsford Ave., as you know, and getting onto I-40 for a while. There was a bit of a zoo there. Right. So there was a buffalo, a zebra, two goats and a donkey. And I had a party at my house, a barbecue. And I said to everybody I tasked them with. You need to make a joke about the buffalo, the zebra, two goats and a donkey and Nobody did it, so nobody did it!
Chris Waddell: |01:04:40| So, I will share with you my joke. So a buffalo, a zebra, two goats and a donkey walk into a bar? And one of the goats said to the donkey, 'so which one of us is the rabbi?
Chris Waddell: |01:05:02| I don't know. It was at the yeah, so anyway, yeah, you put me on the spot here. Most of my stuff is more experiential, kind of more Seinfeld kind of thing.
Tom Kelly: |01:05:11| Well, but the thing for me is, is it's experiential because I know the house you're talking about and I know the animals, I miss them. They're no longer there. But we'll give you credit for that. One is a simple one. Chris, a simple one. Chris, your favorite Utah craft beer.
Chris Waddell: |01:05:28| My favorite Utah craft beer. Wow, that's a good thing. So actually, it's funny. I'm still sweating from the comedy question, Tom. I hope you know my favorite.
Tom Kelly: |01:05:38| There's no more hard ones,
Chris Waddell: |01:05:39| No more hard ones. It's funny because I actually stopped drinking about two and a half years ago, maybe a little bit more now. And so so I'm trying to think of what you know, I think that that I would probably go with Polygamy Porter, though, as my favorite craft beer. And and there's a little bit of an aside to that in that before 2002 I did a NESN interview, which is the New England Sports Network. They carry the Boston Red Sox and I've been a Boston Red Sox fan forever. They called me up and said, hey, we want you on an Olympic Paralympic preview show and I said to the guy, and who knows where this came from? I said, hey, you know I will do it, but you've got to get me to throw out the first pitch at a game. And so when these guys were here, when they were in Utah he loved that he could take the Polygamy Porter - why don't you bring some home to the wives. One just isn't enough. He thought that was the great immersion in Utah.
Tom Kelly: |01:06:51| The great marketing genius of Greg Schirf.
Chris Waddell: |01:06:55| It really is, it really is, yes,
Tom Kelly: |01:06:59| Last question, and I honestly don't know how this applies to a monoski, but my traditional closing question and fresh tracks is groomers, bumps, glades or powder.
Chris Waddell: |01:07:13| You know, I think probably first is groomers. I still ... the new shaped skis. I mean, going from a 210 straight giant slalom skis to these skis with shapes, I love the feeling of making a turn. So groomer's and then and then powder. I did at one point I donated a day of skiing to a fundraising event and it was a father and son who in the sun was about nine or 10 years old. And the kid was just sort of dragging in the morning and went to lunch. And I thought, OK, well, it'll be a half day skiing. And the kid had a little bit of food and blood sugar came back and he was ready to go and ran into a few of his buddies. And then we ended up skiing the Olympic bump course all afternoon. I, I can't say that I really enjoyed that all that much. The mumps king is not. I try to avoid them as best I can.
Tom Kelly: |01:08:06| You know, I think I think many of us do, and I included it in there just hoping that someday somebody is going to pick that. And I interviewed Shannon Bahrke a year ago, who is a two time Olympic medalist in the bumps. She didn't go there. So I don't know that anybody is. So, Chris Waddell, it's been a joy to talk to you. And we're so proud of having you in Utah and being an ambassador for the sport and our great state. And thanks for joining us on Last Chair.
Chris Waddell: |01:08:32| Thank you, Tom. It's been an absolute pleasure. Keep it up.