By Troy Hawks, www.troyhawks.net
Mark Urich has his sights set far down the fall line. While hype for Sochi 2014 is nearing a fevered pitch, Urich is aiming for Korea 2018. It was just three years ago that the Denver native put on his first ski and he’s been pursuing an adaptive ski racing career ever since.
Only a few months into the sport, Urich placed ninth in the 2011 U.S. Adaptive Alpine Championships at Alyeska, Alaska. Last season he took fourth in both the downhill and Super G at the U.S. Adaptive Alpine Nationals in Aspen, and in early December, Urich finished 15th at the prominent IPC Alpine Skiing NorAm Cup held at Copper. The strong finish on a world stage of adaptive ski racing left the 28-year-old Urich with newfound inspiration.
“The best in the world was there, so it was awesome to see that, it’s really got me stoked,” he says.
Urich was born with a congenital birth defect called Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD) that caused severe underdevelopment of his right femur. The leg was further amputated when he was two in order to better fit a prosthetic device. He was introduced to ski racing by Alana Nichols, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist, and he’s coached at the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winter Park. (www.ncsd.org)
On most days, Urich has already “hike-skied” his first run before his 8:30 a.m. training has started. He navigates the early morning ascent with a powder ski on his left leg and a self-inspired snowshoe contraption that he outfitted for his right leg. When he gets to the top, he puts his prosthetic leg into his backpack, stows the snowshoe, and skis down.
Urich is not delusional about the scope of work he faces in order to qualify for the U.S. team in time for Sochi. To make it, athletes have to remain under 250 points on a 1,000-point scale and right now Urich says he’s at about 275. The final qualifier is January 1-3 at Winter Park. The guys Urich competes against have been racing for 10 years or more, so he prefers to take the long view on his ski racing career.
“I’m making progress each year, and I’m laying down times that are always faster than the last, so I’m psyched, I’m feeling strong,” he says.
As a kid Urich played little league baseball and as a sophomore he made the varsity football team as a defensive back. Later, he was on the rowing team for the University of Colorado. After college Urich says he became immersed in the party lifestyle until it eventually caught up with him, as he says: “It took several burnt bridges and big mistakes to hit rock bottom.” When he did hit bottom, he found skiing, and from that moment he echoes the four words that so many of us have proudly proclaimed: Skiing changed my life.
His goal is to qualify for World Cup events in two years, and he’s damn determined to be in Korea in 2018. Urich launched an online crowdfunding campaign at www.gofundme.com/MarkUrich and on December 19, Urich’s friends are putting on the We’s Us Holiday Benefit at Herbs (2057 Larimer St., Denver) to help raise funds for supporting his ski race training and travel. Find more about the benefit at www.wesusband.com . Find more on Mark Urich at www.TeamUrich.com.