When you first meet Chris Devlin-Young you might think, what a nice, soft-spoken, unassuming guy. You may have seen him building sets and stages or managing the box office for Theatre Under the Stars. Or, you might know him as an Advisory Board member for the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports program. Trust me – there is much more to Chris Devlin-Young than meets the eye. Below his quiet, reserved demeanor there’s a fighter striving to be at the top of his game – a warrior determined to push himself to the limits of his ability.
Chris hails from California, but has been a Thornton, N.H. resident for a number of years. He is a world class Paralympian and on March 9, 2013 he won the Men’s Sitting World Cup Final Downhill race in Sochi, Russia, in an amazing run that reached speeds up to 75 mph. Check out video of Chris’s winning run. The win propelled Chris into 3rd place overall in the World Cup Downhill standings. Watch video of the medal ceremony.
But Chris’s climb to the top hasn’t been easy. His wife, Donna, calls him “The Comeback Kid.” He came from the back of the pack to win this downhill race on a borrowed and repaired snow ski (his broke in a crash the day before). To top it all off, Chris hasn’t finished a World Cup downhill in two seasons without crashing, he’s still recovering from double knee replacement surgery just 10 months ago, and he’s 20+ years older than most of the other racers.
As Donna helped spread the word about Chris’s win, she proudly said, “The mark of a true champion is not in how he stands tall, it’s in how he gets up after falling down. In this, my husband is a true and timeless champion. I so admire him for his persistence, tenacity and grace under fire.”
Chris’s racing resume is long and impressive:
- 4-time Paralympic Games medalist
- World Cup champion
- 10-time US National Champion
Remarkably, Chris didn’t even learn how to ski until 1986. The proverbial California surfer boy joined the Coast Guard in the early 1980’s. In 1982, he was a radio man on a C-130 flight mission in Alaska’s foggy Aleutian Islands. The plane crashed into a mountain, killing several of those on board. Chris survived the impact, but unbeknownst to him he had broken his back. The injury only became permanent when he pulled fellow crew members from the burning wreckage. His legs gave out and he was forced to watch helplessly as his best friend nearly perished in the flames. Twenty-four hours after the crash, Chris came to in the hospital where a doctor informed him that the spinal injury was irreversible.
Following the accident, Chris became a self-described “bitter and angry young man.” He struggled to find his way until 1986 when he was one of five veterans invited to participate in the first National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. He credits that experience with changing his life for the better, helping him find a new focus, confidence and determination to not just survive as a disabled veteran, but to thrive on the challenges—and to help others do the same.
“My goal is to help those with disabilities realize their potential,” Chris says. “Adaptive sports pushed me to be healthy – mentally and physically – and to stay in front of the ravages of the disability.”
Today, Chris continues to train and compete on slopes around the world. But, unlike many elite athletes, when he’s not skiing, Chris focuses on giving back to others by removing barriers for disabled athletes and making snowsports more accessible for the disabled. To that end, he has accomplished many “firsts.”
— The first disabled athlete to fashion a mono-snowboard– which he used to become the first disabled athlete to qualify for and compete in the US Snowboard Extreme Championships
— The first disabled athlete to qualify for and compete in the US Freeski (Extreme) Championships (finishing in the top 25)
— The first athlete ever to qualify for and compete in both the US Freeski and Snowboard Championships in a single season
— The first disabled athlete to compete (on an able-bodied team) at the World Synchronized Ski Championships
— The first disabled athlete to anchor a 100% disabled team at the World Synchronized Ski Championships (winning the inaugural Adaptive category)
— The first disabled athlete to compete in the speed ski endurance contest “24 Hours of Aspen”
— The first disabled athlete to compete in an able bodied skiercross event
— The first disabled athlete to win the (inaugural) X Games Monoskiercross event
— The first (and only) disabled athlete inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame (alongside baseball player Troy Glaus and football star LaDainian Tomlinson)
At the height of his racing career, Chris took two years off to found and run the New England Adaptive Ski Team at Loon Mountain with his wife, Donna, who’s a former elite ski racer. The couple quickly filled their ranks and coached three athletes to overall US National Championships as well as ascension to the US Adaptive Ski Team where they won multiple World, Paralympic and World Cup medals. The NEDST at Loon was also instrumental in the creation of the Golden Cup series of races, named in honor of Devlin-Young’s teammate, the legendary Diana Golden, who died of cancer. The race series fosters young adaptive talent not yet ready for the rigors of elite race competition. “It’s a ‘Buddy Werner league’ of sorts for adaptive skiers,” Chris explains.
Devlin-Young continues to give back to the event that helped start it all and to his fellow military service men and women by his yearly attendance at the Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. There he has coached hundreds of veterans on to the snow and into a healthier and more active lifestyle.
“Skiing is a gravity-powered sport so it’s the Great Equalizer. In my wheelchair, I encounter dozens of obstacles every day. But on the snow, I just glide over it. There is so much freedom to be found. Learn a sport, get outside and play. The troubles of the disability will fade into the background. They aren’t going to disappear– but they will fade.”