From CMN Hospitals Champion to World Cup Champion: One Paralympian overcomes near insurmountable odds to grace the tops of podiums worldwide

Andrew Kurka always dreamed of becoming an Olympian.

From a very early age he trained as a competitive wrestler, ultimately becoming a six-time Alaska State Champion in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Even as a tween his athletic career was flying high, and his Olympic dream began to grow steadily closer.

But at 13 years old, an ATV accident severely damaged his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down. Doctors at our Network’s Children’s Hospital at Providence in Anchorage, Alaska, told him he would likely never walk again.

“A lot of people tell me it’s permanent when it comes to spinal cord injures,” Andrew said. “But I think that’s where being hard-headed has helped me quite a bit. I don’t take no for an answer and just keep going.”

Six months and countless physical therapy sessions later, the teenager began to feel sensations return in his legs. Two years after the accident, he was able to walk through the doors of Providence hospital to greet his proud doctors. Andrew now walks with the use of leg braces and crutches, but never uses a wheelchair.

Andrew was chosen to be the 2007 CMN Hospitals Alaska Champion ambassador, where he represented millions of hospitalized sick and injured children across the U.S. and Canada. 

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.26.46 AM

Then: Andrew at 15 years old as the CMN Hospitals Alaska Champion ambassador

While a Champion, he had the opportunity to meet President George W. Bush at the White House and travel to Orlando, Fla. to be recognized for everything he has overcome.

A New Beginning

At the suggestion of his physical therapist, the former wrestler strapped on a monoski two years after his accident, and he easily sped down a snowy incline. A new passion was born.

A natural talent and determined athlete, Andrew began racing on the international stage just two years after he began Alpine skiing. He has since competed at the X-Games and placed high in several major international competitions, including 1st place in downhill at World Cup Tignes in France and 2nd place in downhill at NorAm Aspen. Most notably, he won the 2014 World Cup Panorama, landing himself the No. 1 spot in the world and a trip to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games as a U.S. Alpine Monoskier. He was a Paralympian. 

Photo1[1]

Now 22, Andrew was the gold medal favorite leading into the Sochi Games. But two weeks prior to the start, he crashed during his first training run in Russia, breaking his back a second time. He suffered fractures in his T5 and T6 vertebrae, but, thankfully, there was no repeat of paralysis. Andrew was sidelined for the remainder of the competition and returned early to his home in Palmer, Alaska, to begin rehabilitation and to “keep the momentum” of training.

Although most people would grant a medal-contender plenty of license to feel disappointment at missing the podium, Andrew doesn’t view the experience that way. Instead — radiating resilience and contagious levels of positivity — he sees this as an opportunity to hop back up and try again, just as he did at age 13.

“A lot of people get down when they get injured, but you just have to keep chugging forward,” he said. “I’m not going to look back on it. Even though it was a hard time, I’m going to get through it. I know it’s possible to get better.”

Photo1[1]

Now: Andrew at 21 years old on the top of the podium at the World Cup Panorama in Canada.

Andrew’s sights are now set on going for gold in the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Congratulations, Andrew! We look forward to watching our former Champion soar to new heights as a Paralympian and as an inspiration to those around him.

To keep up to date on Andrew’s journey, visit: andrewkurka.wordpress.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *