On Thursday, March 16, now two-time Paralympic medalist Tyler Turner came home from Beijing, welcomed by a surprise group of his friends.
The Campbell Rivr resident was fresh off his first ever Paralympic games, where he won gold in the snowboard cross event, and took home an unexpected bronze in banked slalom. While he was focused on placing well in snowboard cross, the banked slalom placement was a welcome surprise.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself for the gold in snowboard cross,” he said. “When it came to banked slalom it was all bonus. I had already accomplished what I went there for. I struggled for most of the season in banked slalom. As a bilateral amputee, the banked slalom is a trickier event for me to try to get from the toe edge to the heel so fast, so many times.”
“I was just kind of leaving it all out on the playing field there and giving it everything I had. If it all worked out and came together, maybe I’d be able to sneak up on the podium. That’s exactly what happened,” he said. “When I looked up and saw that I was on the podium, at least for that moment, I was very surprised.
“Then watching the rest of the riders go through was extremely nerve-wracking, but when I did solidify my spot up there on the podium I was… I don’t know… I never thought that could happen. It was a really good run. That bronze felt just as good as that gold.”
Turner’s experience started five years ago after a skydiving crash. However, the Paralympics weren’t always on his mind.
“I was actually kind of put off by the Paralympics,” Turner said. “I personally, for the first six months to a year, thought it was stupid, less than and confirmed that I would be disabled for the rest of my life.”
That changed when he watched the 2018 PyeongChang games from his hospital bed.
“That kind of was the first step to seeing that these guys are absolute elite athletes competing at the highest level, just given the opportunity to do it with people with the same challenges,” he said. “I thought it was really cool. There were no participation ribbons being given out.”
He still, however, was unsure of his prospects. Turner’s legs were amputated at different stages in his recovery. After his first operation, he did not really see competing as an option. It was only after his second leg was amputated and he first stood on two prosthetics that his mind began to change.
“My first time standing up on my snowboard, I knew there might be a chance,” he said. “If I could put my head down and train hard and push for the two years before the games.”
Nevertheless, Turner said that he had experienced and continues to experience dark days. The mental trauma of an accident like his takes a toll, no matter how much time has elapsed.
“I don’t love breezing over that. It’s part of the story,” he said. “The mental battle of going through trauma like that lasts so much longer. It still lingers daily.”
Looking back now, however, he said one piece of advice he would have for his past self would be to have patience.
“If you try and force it, it’s only going to be frustration. Look to small, achievable goals so you can be proud of your accomplishments as you go forward,” he said. “Just put your head down and keep trudging forward. You’re going to get knocked down, but you have to get back up and put one foot in front of the other. it’s not pretty, but keep plowing forward. Eventually you can look back over five years, and it’s pretty incredible what you’ve accomplished.”
At the moment, Turner is looking forward. He’s going to continue working to promote para-snowboarding. But, he’s also got surfing on the mind, including competing in the US Open of Adaptive Surfing.
“Beyond that we’ll (take our sailboat) head south and west, and hopefully go around the Pacific.”