Local Paralympian Evan Strong seeks gold in Sochi | TheUnion.com

Local Paralympian Evan Strong seeks gold in Sochi

You never know where life will take you until you embrace it.

That's what local restaurant owner and Paralympian snowboarder Evan Strong has done, and it has taken him all over the globe and to the top of the para-snowboard cross world.

"I didn't try to find snowboard cross racing, it found me." Strong said. "Snowboard cross racing has been a very serendipitous experience from the start. I've done a lot of board sports, I've competed in a lot of board sports, but I feel like I've been in the right place at the right time, and each time it found me. It's kind of nurtured me. With snowboard cross there was just this wave of energy, and I caught it and have been riding it ever since."

Long trip to Sochi

“To get gold in the games, you need to have all your ducks in a row, and they all have to be wearing gold medals.”

— Evan Strong

Currently ranked No. 1 in the world in para-snowboard cross, Strong is a two-time World Cup overall champion and has his sights set on gold in the debut of his sport at this year's Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

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"To get gold in the games, you need to have all your ducks in a row, and they all have to be wearing gold medals," Strong said. "That refers to ever aspect of my life — my food, my sleep, my relationship, my friends, my snowboarding, you got to have all your ducks in a row, and I love this town because I can get all of that, I can find that."

Strong's journey to Sochi started seven years ago when he moved to Lake Tahoe from Maui three years after losing his left leg below the knee in an auto accident.

"I moved off Maui because I was still here," Strong said. "I had survived my accident, and I still wanted to do anything and everything with board sports, and seeing snowboarding it was like, wow, I can't believe I haven't done this. I want to develop this board sport. It seemed like it fit perfectly."

Once in Lake Tahoe, Strong got a job working at Northstar.

"I waited until the snow fell, the chair lifts opened, I bought all my own equipment, I rode the chair lift to the top and looked down the hill and was like, I've invested everything into this moment, let's see how it goes," he recalled. "I fell on my ass, I fell on my face, I tumbled down the hill. But the thing is, with my background in other sports, I picked it up quickly. I was riding down the hill on the first day, and by the second day I was riding all over the mountain, and I fell in love with it."

After about 100 days of riding and as the season was ending, Strong was then asked to compete in his very first snowboard cross event.

"I remember being in that gate and just being so nervous, so nervous. It was one of the most intense things I had ever done," he said. "When that gate dropped and I went out with three other world-class competitors and I got the hole shot in my first race and I was competitive, I didn't win that race but I got second or third, but being a rookie and being competitive, it was like such a rush and an accomplishment, I just wanted more. I've been doing it ever since."

A few years later Strong joined the World Cup tour for adaptive athletes, where he has finished first in the overall competition twice and second once in four years on the tour. But for the past two years, Strong has been focused on the Paralympics above all else.

"For two years now I've been doing everything in my power to be as fit, as strong, as fast, as adaptable and have the best endurance for this time now." he said. "I feel really strong, and I feel right now my snowboarding is at its strongest. I'm not doing a lot of the heavy lifting, but my snowboarding is the strongest. I've never snowboarded as good as I am today."

Media blitz

Strong is a well spoken, charismatic and talented athlete and because of those qualities, he has been hitting the media circuit to help promote the Paralympics and his sport.

"It's definitely cool to be singled out to be the male face for my sport; that's a huge honor," he said.

"I've been getting tons of press, everything from "NBC Nightly News," Sports Illustrated and everything else under the sun. It's really crazy. To be recognized internationally as an athlete for snowboard cross racing is a huge honor. I feel like it builds me up, I don't feel like I'm folding under that pressure, but there's also that element that you feel you need to perform well."

That pressure to perform well is something Strong said he is prepared for.

The training

"I'm confident in my preparation," he said.

"My community is so amazing for the training I'm getting — the snowboard team up at Squaw, Eric Kenyon at the Dynamic Movement Center with kettle bell training, friends, family and everything. I come home and I feel rejuvenated. One of the best things about being home is I can find organic, local nutritious food in so many different places."

Nutrition is a paramount aspect of Strong's training and something he takes very seriously.

"Nutrition is where the rubber hits the road," Strong said.

"If you don't have good nutrition, most aspects of the body start to fall short. Everything from muscle function and recovery, but the big ones for me are the neurological responses, reaction time and your state of mind. If you have better nutrition, you have a more positive state of mind because the body has the resources it needs to make neurotransmitters of serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and all the hormones of the body. Those are all the triggers. If you're lacking in nutrition, you're not going to feel awesome."

With his body feeling good, Strong said that he, along with the U.S. team, got some quality training in the week prior to the Paralympics at a facility in Aspen, Colo., that was built to replicate the course in Sochi.

"We're so spoiled." he said with a laugh."I don't know what they had to pay to get that done."

The competition

With all the time, effort and training that Strong has put in over the past two years, he said nothing is guaranteed and that the competition will be stiff at the games.

"I know its going to be a fight to the end; its going to be close," he said.

"Whether it's my teammates or someone from the other nations, it will be tough, but I'm going to go hard and I'm going to go smart."

Strong primary competition comes from teammate Mike Shea, with whom Strong shares the No. 1 ranking. Shea took the overall World Cup this past season, ending Strong's two-year hold on it.

The future

Strong said the Paralympics are just the beginning for him as he would like to compete in the Winter Olympics in 2018 alongside able-bodied competitors.

"I've been at the top of my sport for a while." he said. "I'm ready to be a rookie at the bottom of the barrel in another. I want to be the first Paralympian to break into the Winter Olympics.

But that's the future. In the present, Strong will compete for that Paralympic gold he has worked so hard for on March 14.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

TV watch

What: Snowboard cross

When: Midnight, March 14

Channel: NBCSN

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