Ten years gone: Decade after trying snowboarding, adaptive shredder Derick Byrd pays it forward
December 6, 2018
Derick Byrd's snowboarding passion has now come full circle, from a Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center adaptive ski and snowboard participant, to BOEC intern.
Back in March of 2009, Byrd and his twin brother Devin traveled to Breckenridge Ski Resort for the first time from their home in the little farming community of Champaign County, Ohio. The Byrds were able to the make the trip thanks to a donation from a former cancer patient who was treated at the same hospital, Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. It's where Derick was treated at the age of 8 in 2003 for osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer in his left tibia.
The cancer initially forced Derick to undergo a complete tibial and knee replacement with 8 inches of titanium implanted into his femur. For four years, the titanium replaced his shin bone, until in July 2008 he had his lower left leg amputated above his knee. For Derick, he now looks back at the amputation as a "silver lining" of sorts. Though he no longer had cancer when the amputation took place, having been in remission for four years since 2004, the titanium shin prevented him from doing what he loved most: playing sports alongside his twin brother Devin.
While Devin was out there playing soccer, football or baseball, Derick couldn't join him due to the weight and fragility of the internal prosthetic. That all changed, though, when he told his hematologist about how much fun he had at a local, small adaptive skiing program in Ohio. The news of Derick's desire to ski more made its rounds throughout the hospital after his amputation in the summer of 2008. That led to the fateful donation which provided the twins with the opportunity to try out snowboarding for the first time in Breckenridge.
"It kind of changed my life," Derick said.
In March 2009, the Byrds left their parents behind to attend a BOEC program. By the end of the week, the athletically-inclined Devin was already skiing double-black diamonds and his twin brother Derick had fallen in love with snowboarding.
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"I wanted to be able to go up the mountain with my brother too," Derick said. "He was doing much harder stuff, and I wanted to see what he was doing. And I knew I had the ability. I could see it in my brother. I got really good once I convinced him to switch to snowboarding the following year. Getting to watch him combined with the advice of the BOEC, I kind of had this body-double to do the stuff I needed to do and I could adapt that to my way."
To snowboard, Derick says he has padding that pushes his prosthetic left leg forward into the front of his rear boot, as he rides goofy, for more edge control. His back leg is constantly in a flexed angle with his knee bent, as he uses his hip flexor on his left side to control everything. Despite all of this, there's no way to tell Derick is missing a foot while he's riding all over the mountain — whether it be in the powder off of the above-tree-line Imperial SuperChair or zooming down the groomed snow on the advanced Volunteer run on Peak 9.
In order to get to that level of snowboarding skill, it took Derick more than 90 days on snow alongside Devin. That included nine consecutive years, starting in 2009, where the duo made it back out to Breckenridge. One year when they didn't receive the funding to make the typical trip, it still meant so much for them to come that they drove the family car across the country.
"We knew Breck held a special place in our heart," Derick said. "Our home away from home, it helped us develop a skill we would have never learned in Ohio: how to be independent and how, together, we can both push to succeed."
Derick was able to return to the BOEC this year as an intern thanks to the relationships he previously forged at the BOEC and the positive attitude he consistently radiated. So now, almost exactly a decade after he first got the chance to snowboard in Colorado, he's living up at the BOEC's intern cabin next to the Griffith Lodge on Peak 9, skiing down to Beaver Run every morning to teach winter sports.
He is able to do each kind of adaptive skiing, including mono-skiing, sit-skiing and three-tracking. But it's snowboarding that will always have his heart. That includes the future, as this week at The Hartford Disabled Sports USA Ski Spectacular, Derick got the chance to speak with 2018 Pyeongchang Team USA Paralympic flag bearer and gold and silver medalist Mike Schultz.
"I'm hoping to get my foot in the door with adaptive training so I can do boardercross," Derick said.
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