Breaking Barriers on the Slopes: An Interview with U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skier Ralph Green
A well-rounded junior athlete, Ralph Green excelled as quarterback and point guard for his high school teams in Brooklyn. His life dramatically changed at the age of 15 when a gunshot wound resulted in the amputation of his left leg from the hip down. Today, the 36-year-old is the first African-American male to make the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team.
A two-time Paralympian, Green, took a moment to share insights on his career and future aspirations before heading to Sochi to compete for Team USA at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
You’ve come a long way to get to where you are today. How has your injury affected you?
Green: A dramatic event in life, such as a gunshot wound, will change you forever. I went from being a 15-year-old athletic stud to being dependent on doctors to lift me out of my bed. I was angry at first, but learned to get past those feelings. My accident helped me realize life is short and unexpected things can happen at any time. The trials and tribulations changed my outlook and as a result, I’ve learned to take nothing for granted.
A few years after losing your leg, you were introduced to alpine skiing. What inspired you to try the sport?
Green: When I first navigated life without my left leg, I tried sports I was familiar with like track and field. A few years later, I decided to try skiing. Initially, I did it to brag to my friends but soon I was determined to master the sport and would not let anything stand in my way. I told myself I was going to ski until I was the best. Defying expectations became my goal. I moved to Winter Park to train with the National Sports Center for the Disabled and in a few seasons, I made the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team, becoming the first African-American to do so.
Describe what it felt like to become the first African-American man to compete at the Paralympic level.
Green: Anytime anyone can break a barrier, it’s a big deal. When I first started skiing, I was encouraged to represent my hometown. I worked hard to make the U.S. Paralympic Team twice. Ski racing is you against the mountain and I was not scared to go fast or to crash. I learned you have to power through and finish – fear is not a factor. I’m grateful for all the opportunities skiing has given me including the knowledge that I can break down barriers with the right mindset.
You are now training for your third Paralympic appearance. What does that mean to you?
Green: Having the chance to represent my country is a true honor. These Games are special for so many reasons and they could very well be my last. I have unfinished business and I really want to accomplish my goals in Sochi. I am putting myself in a position to be successful, and I can only hope for the best.
You’re enrolled at DeVry University, earning your bachelor’s degree in business administration with a specialization in marketing and sales. How have you been able to pursue your academic and athletic goals simultaneously?
Green: I am as disciplined and committed to my education as I am to my training. My course work has helped me become a better skier. The sense of control and focus I apply in the classroom carries over to the slopes. The combination of onsite and online courses at DeVry gives me and other Team USA athletes flexibility to achieve our academic goals that will undoubtedly help our post-Olympic and post-Paralympic futures.
When you’re not on the slopes, what do you like to do to unwind or to have fun?
Green: For me, skiing and school are fun. They both push me to constantly learn and push myself to do more, learn more and try more. I also enjoy camping, biking, riding my motorcycle, bowling, and relaxing.
What do you intend to do after theParalympic Games?
Green: I plan to use my degree and identify a career in the sports industry when my competition days come to an end. I want to continuously show my family and hometown that anything is possible –academics, athletics, and more. Barriers are meant to be overcome and you can’t let the fear of failing stop you from achieving greatness.