This article was originally published by Austin Colbert in The Aspen Times.
Having grown up in rural Alaska, Andrew Kurka has always been an adrenaline junkie. It's kind of his trademark — one that also has caused him plenty of headaches.
"It's always been a piece of me," Kurka said. "I suppose it was the way I was raised. I've always seen the world a bit differently than most people."
The gung-ho nature he embodies has led to him becoming one of the best adaptive skiers in the world. Earlier this winter he won a downhill world championship, and this weekend in South Korea he won his first two World Cup globes, winning the season-long titles in downhill and super-G.
It's taken him a long time to reach this point, considering he's broken more body parts than most people can imagine.
"He kind of learned the hard way with a couple big crashes," Kevin Jardine said. "He's always been a fast skier. The last couple of years he's kind of learned tactics on control, to be able to ski fast with a proper line. So that definitely makes him a threat. He's never really been afraid of going fast."
Kurka, 25, broke his back when he was 13 in a four-wheeling accident. He's paralyzed from the waist down.
When he was 16, it was his physical therapist who introduced him to adaptive skiing, with Challenge Alaska getting him started. He wasn't keen on skiing, an activity he had no background in prior to his injury. As it turned out, it changed his life.
"I showed up, I loved it. I found out that I could do what I always wanted to do," Kurka said. "I started doing a lot of other things. It helped me realize that anything is possible with a disability and with what has happened to me."
Through Challenge Alaska he came into contact with Challenge Aspen and Jardine. Jardine is a long time adaptive ski coach who started the adaptive racing program at Challenge Aspen. The Carbondale resident is currently the director of the U.S. national adaptive team.
Kurka began training with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club about six years ago as well and Aspen has become a second home of sorts ever since.
"It's great because a lot of the locals are willing to help out and show they care and make a difference for a lot of us adaptive athletes," Kurka said. "It's definitely a job. When I'm here, I'm training. I'm competing. When I'm home in Alaska, I'm relaxing and I'm taking my time to go fishing."
Kurka has been on the World Cup circuit for five years, although injuries have always stopped him from thriving. His list includes three broken backs, a broken femur, a dislocated shoulder and two broken ankles. He admitted there isn't much on his body he hasn't broken at some point.
But this hasn't stopped him from pursuing his dreams of one day competing in the Paralympics. This World Cup season he's managed to stay mostly in one piece and has logged a few World Cup victories, leading to his first two globes. The World Cup Finals took place this week in South Korea, where the 2018 Winter Olympics, including the Paralympics, will be held.
Kurka was part of the 2014 Sochi Olympic team, although he broke his back after the first training run and never competed.
"Ski racing is a dangerous sport. When you have no fear like me, you have to manage it tactfully," Kurka said. "After getting the globe, I want to learn Pyeongchang (South Korea). I want to learn the mountain and see what's possible and I want to keep my consistency going into next year so I can show Team USA what I'm made of and can earn a few medals for my country."
Kurka's immediate future is completely focused on the Paralympics. But he's already planning for his future after skiing. He wants to give back, and has dreams of starting a boating business in Alaska that caters to taking disabled persons, sick children and veterans on fishing trips.
"I want to give them a chance to catch a fish bigger than themselves. That's what my big goal is and that's what I'm raising a lot of funds for right now," Kurka said. "Everything I do in life I really want to give back with. I feel like I might as well give back in a way I enjoy; it's authentic when I help people. That's what I'm going for here in life."
You can help Kurka get to Korea by checking out his GoFundMe page at http://www.gofundme.com/andrew-kurka.