Evan Strong grew up in Hawaii with dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder. Ten days before his 18th birthday his dreams were shattered when he was struck by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle. He lost part of his left leg in the accident.
But Strong did not give up on his dreams. He moved to Lake Tahoe in 2007 and took up snowboarding. He took home 15 gold medals in the winter X-Games in para-snowboarding, won the world championships and, on March 14, won the United States’ first gold medal in the Sochi Paralympics in the snowboard cross competition.
Strong is one of many athletes whose strength and endurance helped them take home medals during the 2014 Paralympics.
On March 16, after nine days of grueling competition, the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games came to a close.
216 total medals were awarded during the Paralympics. Russia dominated the podiums, coming in first place in both the gold medal count and the total medal count. They won a total of 80 medal, including 30 gold, 28 silver and 22 bronze.
This broke the record number of Winter Paralympic medals held by Austria since the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
The United States finished seventh in the overall medal count with 18 total medals, including two gold medals — one in hockey and one in snowboarding.
More than thirty years after the famous “Miracle on Ice” hockey game between the United States and Russia during the 1980 Winter Olympics, the U.S. defeated the Russian team in a gold medal match during the Paralympics.
Even with the tensions between the two countries, when the members of the U.S team were awarded their medals, they were met with cheers and applause.
“When they announced us as the gold medal [winner] I was really surprised that the crowd cheered,” U.S. forward Josh Sweeney said in a press confrence after the win.
Sweeney, a former Marine, lost his legs and left arm five years ago when he stepped on a an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
NBC chose to change its schedule and broadcast the event live, making it the first live-action from the Paralympics Games shown on the network.
“I never thought that would happen,” Sweeney said. “I never knew about Paralympics growing up, and hopefully what this will do is get more kids and more adults into sled hockey so we can grow this sport to be a household sport.”
The U.S. took over the snowboarding competition in its debut year, winning a total of eight medals in cross and alpine events.
Amy Purdy took bronze in the first women’s snowboard cross event. Purdy was a contestant on “The Amazing Race” and will be a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” next season.
Led by Strong, the men’s cross team swept the podium. Michael Shea and Keith Gabel took silver and bronze in the event.
“I’m ecstatic, I’m over the moon, I don’t even feel like my feet are on the ground right now,” Strong said in a press confrence.