Up to the challenge - Albuquerque Journal

Up to the challenge

Taos native Kenny LaCome learned to sit ski after a motorcycle accident and became a world-class alpine racer before switching over to Nordic skiing. (Courtesy of the Challenged Athletes Foundation)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Taos native Kenny LaCome always had a need for speed.

The 60-year-old who now lives in Questa used to road race motorcycles when he was younger. And he was good. Perhaps too good for his own good.

During his fifth race of the day on Aug. 14, 1983, in Aspen, Colorado, with three victories already in hand, LaCome went sailing off the track.

He wound up a paraplegic, but certainly not confined to a wheelchair.

If anything, his life has taken off since that fateful day.

“When I was in rehab, they started telling me about the things I could still do after I ended up in the chair,” LaCome said. “They sent a guy over to the rehab center to visit me. He was a sit skier and he started telling me about it.”

But it wasn’t until he moved to Denver in 1986 that he really got to hit the slopes and found a natural calling.

“The world’s largest adaptive ski program is in Winter Park, Colorado,” he said. “I got my first lesson how to sit ski. They told me I was a natural at it and so I was on my way to competing for 23 seasons as a downhill alpine skier.”

The highlight was earning a berth in the 2002 Para Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City.

“I was happy I qualified to be able to do that,” LaCome said. “I had a great skiing career.”

He also met a woman Nordic cross-country skier who inspired him to try that sport.

Kenny LaCome, a Taos native now living in Questa, won three bronze medals in three cross country skiing events at the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Nationals in January. (Courtesy of the Challenged Athletes Foundation)

“I figured it is never too late to check out Nordic skiing and, five years after that, I decided to see what cross-country skiing was all about,” LaCome said. “A few seasons after that, I started competing in Nordic cross-country skiing and I’ve been doing that for over 10 seasons.”

In January 2020, he brought home three bronze medals in three cross-country skiing events at the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Nationals.

And this year, for the first time in his life, he reached out for some help, applying to the Challenged Athletes Foundation for a grant with which he was able to buy new training apparatus.

“Kenny has been a role model and inspiration to anyone he encounters,” said Christy Fritss, a foundation spokeswoman. “Not only does he focus on his own personal athletic achievements, but also he influences others, from community awareness to one-on-one mentorships. He designs various sports equipment for himself and other challenged athletes. This year, a CAF grantee, Kenny can continue on his inspirational journey and motivate others who may not see the possibilities that can support health and wellness.”

“It’s a three wheeler,” LaCome said. “It’s an off-road contraption that you pedal with your hands in a kneeling position with my head forward on my chest. I get to be in a whole other position instead of pushing a wheelchair around. I’m using different muscle groups.”

The grant for the device was particularly welcome.

“I’d heard about the Challenged Athletes Foundation for quite a few years, but never thought about applying for a grant,” he said. “But that’s what they do, they want to help athletes fulfill their desires and wishes, and things like that. That’s why I decided to apply.”

Simply having the luxury of changing positions was a tremendous boon, LaCome said.

“I had seen these three wheelers and it lets you train for cross-country skiing where there’s no snow,” he said. “The simple fact that I’m in a whole other position from being in a wheelchair and I get to be on my chest, kneeling down, and in a completely different body posture, to me is so thrilling. I got this thing recently. It’s the coolest thing. It’s given me more freedom and these different muscle groups I can exercise. It’s a really sweet ride.”

As he muses about his life, LaCome says the motorcycle accident was in a way something he sought.

“It was something I asked for. I didn’t know it was going to happen in this particular way,” he said. “Being it was something I asked for, I had my little ups and downs, but I decided to continue on with life and not see myself as the victim. I chose to rise above it rather than live in victimhood. I honestly feel that’s what I asked for.”

And the competitive drive that allowed him to live his life and ride his motorcycles on the edge, still remains within his DNA, just with a different outlet.

“I’ve still got that competitive spirit,” LaCome said. “They say that people who end up in chairs, you will get back pretty much to what you were doing with time. I guess that competitive spirit is within. Either its within you or it’s not.”

While driven to compete and succeed, LaCome said he now gets as much satisfaction from helping others achieve their goals in life.

“I still want to compete, but it’s not like I have to win,” he said. “It’s about going out there and the camaraderie of it all, the fun of it, the excitement. To me, everyone who is out there is a winner.”

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