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Military Veteran Says Skiing Helped Him "Get His Life Back"

Marci Krivonen

At 52 years old, Chris Devlin-Young is one of the oldest alpine skiers competing in the Paralympics. A military plane crash years ago paralyzed the part-time Aspen resident from the knees down. Now, he competes in monoskiing and has four Paralympic medals to his name. This year, he’s hoping to add to that medal count. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

On a cloudy, cold February day a group of ski racers is inspecting a slalom course at Buttermilk mountain, near Aspen. It’s the U.S. Adaptive Alpine National Championships and this exercise gives athletes an opportunity to memorize features on the course.

One of the day’s racers is Chris Devlin-Young, who recently found out he qualified to compete in Sochi, at the Paralympics.

"And, when that happened I was very excited. So, I’m going to take into this some jitters that I haven’t felt in a while, some butterflies I haven’t had in awhile, and that excites me a lot!"

Devlin-Young is a “sit-skier” who uses a monoski to compete. It’s a molded seat mounted on a metal frame that connects to a single ski. He learned to ski nearly three decades ago from a disabled veteran who fought in World War Two. It was a fast process.

"So, I learned to ski on a Monday and learned to race on a Saturday, the very same week, and then on a Monday, I sat in and helped with my first ski lesson. So, in one week I learned everything (laughs) about skiing," he says.

For Devlin-Young, skiing helped him get his life back. While serving in the Coast Guard in Alaska in 1982, a plane he was in crashed into a mountain. Eleven people were on-board, two were killed and Devlin-Young was paralyzed. Now, he has very little movement in his legs.

"After the crash it was very tough for me. I was very angry about being disabled. It took a couple of months before it finally set in about what the rest of my life would look like, and I didn’t like that picture at all."

He says skiing found him and helped him deal with his frustrations and anger.

"Skiing is that one thing in my life that liberates me from my disability and I’ve taken it to this level of international competition."

In the 25 years he’s been on the U.S. team, Devlin-Young has picked up two gold medals and two silver. And, he’s the top-ranked downhill mono-skier in the world.

"He’s a really technical thinker, he really focuses mainly on his technique and he’s by far one of the best technical skiers in a mono-ski in the world," says Kevin Jardine.

Jardine is Devlin-Young’s long-time coach. He says Devlin-Young is so precise, other teams try to copy his technique.

"He stays on top and he’s always a threat. When Chris is racing, 90 percent of the teams out there are stepping up to videotape him and record what he’s doing. And, we’ve seen a lot of other teams starting to ski like Chris the past few years."

His technique works to counter the forces acting against him when he’s skiing so, his shoulders are level and his body is positioned just right so he can control his turns.

Back at the Buttermilk race course, Devlin-Young prepares to launch out of the start gate.

He’s one of the older racers competing in the Paralympics but, he says that won’t stop him. His experience gives him an edge and he’s feeling healthy.

"I don’t know, what does a 52 year old feel like? I feel like I’m about twelve (laughs)."

Over the weekend, Devlin-Young crashed during the Super-G men’s competition in Sochi. He’s resting his shoulder until March 15th, when he’s planning on competing in the discipline, Giant Slalom. 

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