Turin-bound Canfield has reached pinnacle of his sport
Breckenridge’s Chris Canfield has found a way to put a positive spin on one of the most traumatic events of his life: the amputation of his left leg. Canfield, who is now 45 years old, was 21 at the time of his life-changing operation. “Looking back, I can’t say that it was a bad point in my life, but more of a turning point,” Canfield said. “The best years of my life were from that point forward.”Surely, Canfield’s positive thinking has helped get him to where he is today: Three weeks from his first appearance in the Paralympic Games. Canfield is one of 10 U.S. men chosen to compete in the alpine standing division at the March games in Turin. In all, the U.S. Paralympic roster includes 27 men and women who will compete in three skiing divisions – sitting, standing and visually impaired.This year’s U.S. Paralympic team, which is coached by Kevin Jardine of Winter Park, is made up of 15 returnees and 12 newcomers. It includes eight Coloradans.According to the U.S. Disabled Ski Team’s program director, Sandy Metzger, this year’s team has a realistic shot at being the top medal winner in Turin.”It should be between us and Austria,” said Metzger, who lives in Breckenridge. “They’ve been right on our heels at the World Cup events.”
Canfield, a six-year resident of Breck, is the second-oldest member of the Paralympic alpine team. “I wanted to be the oldest but there’s another guy, Reed Robinson, who’s 50,” he said. “Reed is a four-time Paralympian who has made a comeback. The Olympics kind of get a lot of the old guys out of the woodwork.”A freak accidentCanfield’s amputation resulted from routine arthroscopic knee surgery gone awry. What doctors described as a surgical mishap led to blood clotting and the subsequent removal of Canfield’s left leg.”It was kind of a freak thing,” Canfield said. Despite losing a limb, Canfield said his life didn’t change too much, it just continued on.
“What I’ve found more and more in the world of disabled skiing is that very few people regret their injuries,” Canfield said. “I’m sure some do, but I don’t see that. Normally, it just becomes a part of you.”Canfield was no stranger to skiing before his operation. As a high school student at Vail Mountain School, the California native said he developed a lasting passion for powder skiing. Soon after his operation, Canfield sought adaptive ski lessons at Winter Park Resort.”I jumped on the lift unsure of how I would do,” he said. “I promptly left the instructor in the dust, threw my outriggers away and skied with poles. It felt good from a freedom perspective.” Over time, however, Canfield realized that if he wanted to race with disabled skiing’s top athletes, he needed to “figure out the outriggers,” he said. Making the next stepCanfield started to pursue racing while in his early 30’s. Initially, he competed in one or two events a year including the Hartford Ski Spectacular, a large gathering of disabled athletes that is held annually at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Canfield began to compete in more and more races over the years and was nominated to the US. Disabled Ski Team in 2004 following a strong result at the Ski Spectacular. He then spent the 2004-05 season racing on the World Cup circuit, traveling to the likes of Austria, France and Germany.As he began to focus on his goal of reaching the Paralympics, Canfield trained extensively with Quantum Sports Club.John Leffler, the director of Quantum’s elite program, has worked closely with Canfield over the past several months.”I’m not surprised he was named to the Paralympic team,” Leffler said. “He’s a real determined guy. With Chris, there’s never an alibi, never an excuse.”In recent months, Canfield has been training four days a week at Breckenridge with Quantum’s other elite athletes. Tough competition
Jardine won’t announce which events U.S. team members will compete in until the Paralympics draw closer. As of now, Canfield believes he could compete in any or all of the four main disciplines: slalom, giant slalom, super G and downhill.Regardless of what he skis, Canfield knows his medal chances are far less probable than they would have been in the past. Historically, there have been 12 classes of disabilities in the Paralympics, each with its own gold, silver and bronze medals. As of this year’s games, however, the Paralympic committee has adopted the three-division format that has been prevalent on the World Cup in recent years. “The change has been good for the sport,” Canfield said. “The competition has become much deeper.””Too many people thought we were just giving out participation medals,” Metzger said. “The value of a medal is a lot higher now.”Canfield understands that reality.”I don’t know that anyone in the disabled skiing realm would consider me a medal favorite except my kids,” Canfield said with a laugh. Canfield’s daughters, Leah and Meigan, and his wife Kari will be on hand in Italy next month to cheer him on.
Medal chances aside, Canfield said he has two main goals for the upcoming games.”Primarily, I want to remember that I need to have fun,” he said. “Granted I’ll be there to compete as hard as I can and leave it all out there, but I also want to relish the experience and ensure that it’s positive.”Canfield’s second goal is simple: “I want to ski better than I have in any other big race in my life,” he said.Canfield’s debut at the Paralympics may very well be the chance of a lifetime. The business and family man said his trip to Italy will represent his “swan song” on the international circuit.”I’ll keep ski racing forever,” he said. “But I’m not going to travel the globe anymore. I think I’m going to let the races come to me.”Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13631, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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