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Top 25 Skiers: Chris Waddell

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SKIING’s interview with Chris Waddell, one of North America’s top 25 skiers.

Name: Chris Waddell

Age: 32

Date of birth: September 28, 1968

Age when you started skiing: Three

Hometown hill: “I grew up in Granby, Massachusetts, and I started skiing at Mount Tom. It had a total of maybe 500 vertical. It was owned by a construction company. I also skied at Berkshire East.”

Current home hill: Park City, UT

Claim to fame: Ten Paralympic medals, including five golds. Nine World Championship medals, three gold. World Cup overall champion in ’99-’00. Four medals at the 2000 World Disabled Championships (including one gold).

Summer Olympics: In October, World Cup champ Chris Waddell took home silver in the 200-meter wheelchair sprint at the Summer Paralympics in Sydney. He also competed in the 100m, 400m, 800m events, as well as the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.

When did you start racing? “I’d started as a freshman at Middlebury College. I trained with the team that first year at school but didn’t compete. I broke my back before I even competed.” Editor’s Note: So Chris never raced prior to his accident.

What happened? “It was December 20, 1988 — it’s a date that’s burned into my memory. I broke my back, skiing at Berkshire East the first day of Christmas break. I was training at the old hill. I was skiing fast, and my binding prereleased. I don’t remember it. Nobody saw it. It’ll be 12 years ago next month.”

When did you start skiing again? “Three hundred-sixty-two days after it happened, I started skiing again on a mono-ski. I went to the Snowbowl at Middlebury. I didn’t realize I was going to fall all day long. I had to learn all over again. I went from a rank beginner to skiing the whole mountain in a week. Two weeks after I started skiing again, I started competing. In my first race, I won by like eight seconds — it was absurd.”

What events do you race in? “I compete in all four: slalom, super G, downhill, and GS. I’ve probably had my most success in downhill. It scares me, but I’m always thinking about downhill. It’s the biggest challenge, to convince myself to go fast. I like speed, I guess I love it. But I don’t love it with reckless abandon. A little bit of fear keeps you sane.”

Tell us about People Magazine fame. “Yeah, I was named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1998. It was right before I was leaving for Japan. I was visiting my girlfriend at the time. I’d been doing some modeling. I was with an agency that represents disabled models. I couldn’t tell anybody, it had to be a surprise. If it got out, they’d yank me.”

Did it change your life? “Not really. It’s not like I had commercial offers or movie offers. It’s not like I’m hanging out in Hollywood with Gwyneth Paltrow. As a disabled person, it’s changed how people look at me. It seemed to lend some legitimacy. People are more impressed with me being in People than all the stuff I’ve won. It’s not that I’m bitter about it. I have to realize the industry I’m in.”

What about the modeling gigs? “As far as modeling is concerned, it was never anything too exciting — mostly catalogue stuff for department stores. I did do a shoot for Eddie Bauer once.”

Are you just totally into racing? What about freeskiing? “I am a racer. That’s what I do. It’s hard to be a racer and a freeskier at the same time. You’re always concerned about the possibility of injuring yourself. You’re doing something that’s sort of your job. So often as a ski racer, you’re stuck inside your head. But I love going out with friends and skiing steeps and jumping off of stuff. I have so much fun. Unfortunately it’s only occasionally.”

Do you have any pets? “No, I’m away so often I’d have nice skeletons.”

Favorite food: “Lobster, but I love sushi too.”

Beverage of choice: “Water, craanberry juice, and I love a good glass of red wine: Merlot.”

Favorite music: “I’m a fickle fan of music. I go with the band of the week. Third Eye Blind is my band of choice this week.”

Car: Volvo 850 Turbo station wagon

Last book you read: Hard Times,by E.L. Doctro

Ski heroes: Ingemar Stenmark and Franz Klammer

Have you ever been heliskiing? “I’ve never been; I’m still waiting for an invitation.”

Plans for the future? “I’m planning to ski for 2002. After that, it’s open. I have a lot of options. I want to eventually settle down. I’m on the road 60 percent of the time — my neighbors wonder. I’d love to have a family.”