Paralympic gold medalist Evan Strong talks his PyeongChang performance, his favorite moment of the games and what's next.
Evan Strong won gold in the snowboard cross at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, and followed up that with a silver in banked slalom in PyeongChang in 2018.
Strong grew up in Hawaii and was pursing a career as a professional skateboarder when he was injured in a car accident 10 days before his 18th birthday. He had to have his left leg partially amputated, but Strong knew he'd get back on the board again. He soon found snowboarding and the rest is history.
Sports Illustrated caught up with Strong to chat about his PyeongChang performance, his favorite moment of the Games and what's next for him.
(Editor's Note: The following interview was lightly edited and condensed.)
Charlotte Carroll: How were the Paralympics this year?
CC: What does it mean to have the platform again and have the ability to go on this media tour?
ES: I’m just so prod of my sport. First it started as adaptive snowboarding and now moving into Paralympic snowboarding. It's just so cool to see it in its humble beginnings and then going to the Sochi, Russia 2014 Games — such a bonus being able to win gold. I’m so happy I could see it through four more years, into PyeongChang to showcase my abilities and bring home a silver.
CC: What was it like training after winning gold and then buckling down again another four years for the next Paralympics?
ES: It’s amazing when an athlete sets the bar and then needs to redefine that. Since Sochi, I had a child, a little girl named Indie Arrow, and she’s 3 years old now. Definitely focus in a lot of places has changed instead of just focusing on my athletics. So being able to buckle down and focus on my athletics and my health and my ability to snowboard. You know just a fuller plate, juggling that and representing my sport and my country and bringing home some hardware.
CC: Did you have your daughter and family there to support you?
Oh yeah, I had my wife, my child, my father, my big sister, my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law from Hawaii out there. It made all the difference. Having my family and my child watch me compete and have a medal run and get to see my medal ceremony: It gives so much more context and value to what I do. I’m happy I can share that with my child and family. I get to show them what all this hard work represents.
CC: She’s only 3, but do you think she’ll remember this?
ES: Oh yeah absolutely, my child is surprisingly smart and conscious. Even if it’s not in her conscious mind, I know it's in her subconscious mind. This is a big imprint. All I can hope is me saying yes to my passions and bringing it to the highest level gives her permission in the future to really follow her dreams and try to achieve her excellence.
CC: Was winning silver the best moment of the Games or did you have a different moment that really stuck out?
ES: Probably being able to share it with my family, especially my daughter is what stood out the most. But of course as an individual, being able to bring home the silver is great. To have that symbol to represent all of my hard work, because I know so many other people put so much hard work and tons of sacrifice and don't get to bring home a medal. What a whirlwind and what a blessing.
CC: Did you cheer on other athletes and teams at the Games?
ES: Oh yeah, of course. It’s like the fellowship of snowboarding — a nation where we share the passion of board sports — great friends form Canada, from Great Britain and Australia. Just being able to celebrate and snowboard. Not just as a snowboarder but as a disabled individual, we’re celebrating life together because we’ve all experienced some life-changing incident or situation. All of us on our own had to say, “I’m not a victim. I’m saying yes to life. I’m going to rise to the occasion even with a disability." And we’re going to use the avenue of snowboarding, our passion, to showcase the human spirit. And it’s such a blessing to be able to have the avenue of snowboarding to do so. Just celebrating life. In a lot of ways, that’s what the Paralympics are about.
CC: When did that moment come for you?
ES: Before my accident, I was pursuing a career in professional skate boarding. At that point, I had corporate sponsors and I was traveling around doing contests and demonstrations for my sponsors. It challenged my identity and made me reevaluate who I was in the world. I was hit 10 days before my 18th birthday. I was definitely in a place of limbo: Where does my life go from here? While I was still in the intensive care unit, all my friends and family came to celebrate my birthday. That day, I told them, "I don’t want this accident to get the best of me. I want to recover from this. I’m going to skateboard again. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, I don’t what it’s going to look like, but my goal is to get my ability back." From there, I worked really hard in physical therapy, looked at my diet so I could accelerate recovery. And that just really put me on a path of the universe unfolding itself and having these serendipitous moments of people and situations that really wanted to honor that kind of decision, to have something completely terrible happening to me to having it be the biggest blessing of my life.
CC: When did you find snowboarding after that?
ES: When I was hit, I was living in Maui, so my recovery was there. One day I came across a snowboarding magazine and saw people riding down snow covered mountains and was just so inspired. It was two years after my accident and after seeing that, I told my family I have to learn to snowboard. Second chance at life, and I have to do this because board sports were my passion. So I packed up, moved to Lake Tahoe in California and found a job at Northstar Ski Resort. Just immersed myself in the ski culture and shortly after that I got introduced to snowboard competition. It was one of the greatest rushes of my life.
CC: You won gold in the cross at Sochi and then silver in banked slalom. This was the first year that slalom was offered, how’d you decide to compete in that event?
ES: I'm really happy the Paralympics have received it so well and brought on another disciple to showcase more Paralympic snowboarding. There was no way I was going to compete in one discipline. I want to be a part of the whole movement. Banked slalom was absolutely awesome, and the course was absolutely insane — So fast. They did a great job. I’m so happy I could rise to the occasion and showcase my snowboarding on that day. Just get to show the world over TV. It was one of the runs of my life, to be able to remember that; snowboarding that run through a Paralympic medal is the icing on the cake.
CC: How’d you prepare differently for snowboard cross vs. banked slalom?
ES: There are definitely different skills and tactics for both. But growing up surfing and skateboarding, I really felt like the course that was built in South Korea was built for me, It was basically like dropping in on a wave 14 times or carving a pool 14 times. It felt it was built for me.
CC: Now that you're done with the Paralympics, are you planning on taking a break at all or do you have any big plans for the next few months?
ES: I still have nationals. It’s really exciting this time of year. After the world cup circuit and all the things for the International Paralympic Committee, I can race able-bodied. I’m actually able bodied board cross national champion so I’m looking forward to defending my title and keep setting the bar for disabled athletes, not just for myself but everybody else. After that, the race season is over, and I'm looking forward to taking some time to recover and celebrate. We’re going to probably spend a couple months in Bali.
CC: You’re working with Team Bridgestone, how are you working to empower others and younger kids and show them anything is possible because you’re a huge example of overcoming adversity?
ES: When I was kind of in that limbo state, what does my life look like as an amputee and with a prosthetic, there were other adaptive athletes that really gave me an example of what life could be like with a prosthetic. Even with a disability, you can be a professional athlete and be a champion. Once I got back on my feet, just because of that example, you want to give back and pay it forward. Those people really gave me the permission to chase my dreams. Bridgestone’s value and mission is for everybody to chase their dreams. They’re lifting me up and I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants to reach the stars. I’m really excited to continue working with Team Bridgestone to keep walking down that path of chasing my dreams and giving others permission to do the same.