Originally published in Hawaii Sport Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2014 issue
Evan Strong has been an adventurer for as long as he can remember. A Maui, Hawaii, native, Strong spent his youth on a skateboard, entering competitions by age eight and earning his first sponsorship at age 13.
“What skateboarding gave me at a young age was that sense of instant gratification and pushing my limits to learn new tricks,” Strong said. “It could go on for fifty tries, but when you got it, landed it and rolled away, there was a sense of accomplishment – like I achieved something that I couldn’t do before. My capacity, my ability is bigger than before.”
When Strong lost his leg in 2004 after being hit by an automobile while riding his sister’s motorcycle, he certainly didn’t spend much time wallowing in his “disability.” The then-17-year-old was wearing a prosthetic and back on his skateboard within months – and he didn’t stop searching for new adventures, either. Strong was flipping through a snowboarding magazine one day during rehabilitation, and he felt the urge to try out the sport.
In fact, he moved across the country to do so.
“I started looking at it and said, ‘I’ve never been snowboarding before. I have to do this, I have to learn how to do this,’” Strong said. “I made the decision to move off the island and get a job at a ski resort. The first day those lifts opened, I got on and got to the top and pointed my nose down the fall line, and I taught myself how to snowboard.”
He was running double black diamonds by day two.
Throughout the winter of 2007, Strong worked and honed his skills at the Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Through a nonprofit organization called Adaptive Action Sports, a branch of Disabled Sports USA, Strong began entering para-snowboard competitions – the first being the WSF Adaptive Snowboard World Championships in Copper Mountain, Colo., in April 2008.
“I competed in all five events, but the one I liked the most was boardercross,” Strong said. “I got the biggest thrill out of it. I loved it so much.”
Since then, he hasn’t looked back. Strong has earned every title in the sport of adaptive boardercross, including an X Games gold medal, a world championship title, two world overall titles, and nine world cup titles.
His next goal? A gold medal in the inaugural adaptive boardercross event at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games.
Strong said he is “stoked” to be among the first group of adaptive snowboarders in Paralympic history. In his sport, Strong hopes to emulate what Dogtown, Z-Boys and Bones Brigade accomplished as pioneers in the world of competitive skateboarding.
“They were the first generation of skateboarders in their disciplines, and there were all these documentaries of skateboarders who brought this sport to reality,” Strong said. “And I feel like, ‘Wow, we’re making history right now.’ I hope in the future, 50 years from now, people will go, ‘Wow. That was such an amazing movement. They were pioneers in their sport.’”
But Strong’s outlook on the road to Sochi encompasses more than just that hoped-for podium spot.
“Every day, what I’m doing and working towards is a gold medal in para-snowboarding in the Paralympics,” Strong said. “But definitely through my experiences, I’ve learned that it’s a lot more about the journey than the destination. Through what I’m learning and doing and the people I’m getting to meet and the times we get to share – the journey is victorious. Whatever happens in Sochi, I’m going to feel accomplished.”
To prepare himself for that challenge, Strong spent the fall cross-training in skateboarding, mountain biking and yoga while he waited for the snow to arrive at his current home base in Nevada City, Calif. Additionally, he has been working out with Russian kettle bells twice daily under the guidance of his strength and conditioning coach, Eric Kenyon.
Kenyon owns a kettle bell-training company called Form is Function, which specializes in natural and proper movements of the body.
“I’m not doing anything unnatural, because the last thing we want to do is hurt ourselves before we even get to the start gate,” Strong said. “Where it really matters is the two minutes from the start gate to the finish, so I like working with (Kenyon) because I know what I’m doing is going to be safe. I’m not going to get any training injuries.”
Strong’s emphasis is on efficiency, which is why he splits his kettle bell workouts into two separate training sessions at different points in the day.
“Instead of one session and a big level of fatigue in one workout, I do two,” Strong said. “I stretch throughout the day, so I’m getting high results with a low level of fatigue.”
Strong also works on heavy deadlifts to build muscle, though he said he will spend less effort in the weight room and more on the mountain as the Sochi Games draw nearer.
Recently, the Paralympic hopeful has added one more element to his training: a makeshift start gate made out of AstroTurf located conveniently in his backyard. He sprays the turf with water to resemble the texture of snow and practices his starts from it several times per week.
As much as he loves snow and the racing opportunities that come with it, Strong said there are pieces of his Hawaiian upbringing that he will always hold close. He misses speaking pidgin with other islanders, including Paralympic Nordic skier Jeremy Wagner, and the snowboard he plans to ride at the Sochi Paralympic Games has a decal of the Hawaiian Islands on the tail.
Strong, however, carries with him much more than just an image of his home state. There is a Hawaiian mindset, he said, that he tries to embody wherever he goes.
“The biggest thing that I love about Hawaii is ohana, and that is family or community,” Strong said. “Everybody supports everybody, and you treat your neighbor like your friend. If you fall down, you’re community’s going to be there for you, or if someone is in need, you’re going to be there for them. I cherish that and try to bring that wherever I go.”
Strong has the cheerful attitude of a true islander – a sense of aloha – which he hopes is contagious among the people he meets during his time in the mountains.
“I try to have a good vibe, a positive attitude and state of being,” Strong said. “I try to be a positive influence on the people I meet and the time I share with them … I hope that affects my greater ohana community in a positive way.”
Whether on sand or snow, Strong has a tendency to live in the moment and appreciate his surroundings. While he will proudly represent his roots while in Sochi, he won’t be longing for the Islands.
“It’s very cool to be on the pinnacle of sport,” Strong said. “I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time. I feel like I shouldn’t be anywhere else.”
The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games begin two weeks after the conclusion of the Olympic Games, on Friday, March 7. Strong’s event, adaptive boardercross, is set for Friday, March 14, with the closing ceremony taking place two days later.