Being born with only one hand didn’t stop Ben Smith from being a star athlete at Peninsula High School, and it’s certainly not stopping him from shredding the mountain slopes either.
Smith recently took third place at the USASA national championships in the BoarderCross event at Copper Mountain, Colorado. BoarderCross is a competition in which four snowboarders race down a course.
In the 18-22 year old age group, Smith took third out of 15 competitors.
"I was pretty confident," Smith said. "I felt well prepared. I was ready."
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Smith, a freshman at the University of Washington, has been active on the mountain for quite some time. His family owns a cabin near White Pass, and he grew up skiing. At age 8, he decided to give snowboarding a try. He started racing competitively at around age 10. For Smith, the BoarderCross event is what he’s always felt most comfortable with.
"I’d always ride with my family," Smith said. "White Pass doesn’t even have a half pipe. Just the style of riding I grew up doing, the terrain at my local mountain developed those skills. Growing up in these conditions developed those skills."
Smith linked up with Adaptive Action Sports in the past two years, a nonprofit with a goal of promoting snowboarding and skateboarding for youth, young adults and wounded veterans living with permanent disabilities. Smith’s next goal is to qualify for the Paralympic snowboarding team in time for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
But he’s hit a bit of a snag. The International Paralympic Committee doesn’t yet consider Smith eligible.
"It’s a new sport, and they’re using other sports as guidelines," Smith said. "While I’m riding, I don’t have as much of a disadvantage. But at the start gates, I have a disadvantage. Obviously, people like me have a disadvantage. I’m just working on kind of opening it up to a wider audience."
The start is imperative to the race, Smith said. While able-bodied snowboarders are able to push out of the gates with two hands, having only one hand creates a disadvantage. Right now, Smith is working on gathering opinions from the snowboarding and medical communities to support his stance. If he can earn a Paralympic classification, Smith believes he has a good shot to make the Paralympic team.
"I believe I have the talent to do well in those races," Smith said. "If I was able to get classified, I’d have more of a validated reason to commit to doing it more. It’s hard to commit myself when it’s just not as promising as it could be. Having that extra reason would allow me to get more involved."
Smith said he’s grateful for the help he’s received from Adaptive Action Sports, and its coaches, Daniel Gale and Kep Koeppe. While he waits to see if he’ll be approved in the Paralympic classification, Smith will continue to race able-bodied snowboarders, never fearing a challenge.
"That was kind of a big thing for me — racing against kids that have that advantage over me at the start, and pushing myself to be a better rider," Smith said. "That’s definitely a good thing for me."