LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — In his eighth year skiing, retired Army veteran and double-leg amputee Andy Soule, of the U.S. Paralympics Nordic B-team, had been on a rollerski treadmill before — several times in fact: at the U.S. Ski Team headquarters in Park City, Utah, and at U.S. Biathlon’s base at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he trained with fellow national-team members for a week earlier this month.
Straight off a training camp at Sweden’s Torsby ski tunnel in early September, Soule, A-team member Oksana Masters and C-teamer Aaron Pike all put their wheels on the OTC treadmill last week on Sept. 16. And while Soule, 34, was comfortable testing his double-pole technique in front of two coaches (John Farra and Eileen Carey), two physiologists (Jason Kask and Australia’s Sacha Fulton), and a visiting biomechanic from the Chula Vista OTC in California, Masters — who was born with multiple physical defects — had never been on a treadmill before.
“We’re starting from scratch,” Farra said to Masters, 25, as she watched herself rollerski on a video monitor at eye level in front of her. This was the first time the team had set up the treadmill with live-video capabilities, showing front and side views for the athlete to make tweaks or corrections on the fly.
“This is all new,” he said, reminding her to not overthink it. “Work on your V2.”
“What’s V2?” Masters asked as she playfully swung her poles behind her, alternating sides as if she was gliding to the left and right with each double pole.
“You were just doing it,” Carey said.
During each session, Soule, Masters and Pike all reached speeds around 10 miles per hour at about 10-percent incline. Each double poled for about 45 minutes, getting feedback from coaches, with Carey taking notes, Farra holding the safety rope, and both coaches asking how it felt.
The idea was to give the athletes ownership of their own progress — not just on the treadmill, but throughout offseason training. Farra said he got the treadmill-with-real-time-video idea from U.S. Ski Team member Noah Hoffman, who keeps a detailed training blog, and the U.S. Biathlon team, which uses it for that purpose in Lake Placid. As far as he knows, no other Para Nordic team in the world is doing that.
“Maybe one of our advantages is that we think that way,” Farra said. “I hope other Paralympic teams around the world aren’t thinking about all these little pieces and parts because we have a long ways to make up on Russia, who won most of the medals at the [Sochi] Paralympic Games. We’re not them, but I think we can run one of the most professional program in the world. That’s the goal: even if our results aren’t there yet, but if you do everything possible to run the single-best Paralympic program in the world, then that stuff will come, if you find the athletes and if they love it and if everything goes well.
“Andy Soule’s won a medal, so you could kind of go, oh well, he’s already won a medal, so why mess with his technique?” he added. “Well, because he can make two-, three-percent difference just by locking that down …”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.