Chuck Aoki: Top 10 struggles of being a summer Paralympian in winter

The wheelchair rugby player is surviving America’s cold winter weather by taking after winter Ones to Watch athletes in the lead-up to Sochi 2014. 24 Jan 2014
Chuck Aoki

Chuck Aoki is a member of the USA's wheelchair rugby team and has been named One to Watch by the IPC in the lead-up to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

ⒸUSA Wheelchair Rugby
By Chuck Aoki

I've had some fun here, but in all seriousness, I hope you all join me in watching in the Paralympics in March on whatever network carries it in your country.

Hello everyone! I have escaped from hibernation and the polar vortex here in America, to bring to you the 10 struggles I am feeling right now as a summer Paralympian during the winter months.


I know, woe is me. But anyway, here they are.


10. Needing cold weather gear far more than summer clothing

I've found myself envying the sweet hats and jackets all the winter Paralympians get, especially Sweden's sweet coats and hats. It's cold where I live. I have to find a way to PyeongChang in 2018 so I can get bundled up. It's a matter of personal survival, really.


9. Seeing athletes as old as my parents still playing

I know that my wheelchair rugby career will eventually come to an end some day. But these wheelchair curlers, they can play forever. Sonja Gaudet, the Canadian lead is going to be 48, and she’s going for her third straight Paralympic gold medal. I think I've found my calling once rugby is over. See you all in 2038!


8. Wondering how a Norwegian military drill became a Paralympic sport

That's right, biathlon began as a drill for Norwegian soldiers. Ski really far, really fast, and then go shoot a gun. Repeat. I'm sure it's more nuanced than that, but from a layman's perspective that seems accurate. It looks like Russia's own Nikolay Polukhin will be a dominant force in Sochi in the visually impaired class, along with his guide, Andrey Tokarev. I can't believe what I just wrote. Just go watch visually impaired skiers shoot. I'm impressed.


7. Watching sledge hockey players get in fights, and getting the smallest bit jealous

I play a sport affectionately referred to as “Murderball,” so clearly I'm not averse to contact. And while I'm not advocating fighting as a means of resolving disputes whatsoever, but sometimes emotions boil over, and players let loose. It just looks kind of fun.


6. Cold and snow negatively affecting my training, not enhancing it

I'm sure Bibian Mentel-Spee and Evan Strong love a fresh coat of powder early in the morning. And in freezing weather? Must be the best feeling in the world. Me? As a coddled and wimpy indoor sport athlete, I wake up, see -15 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 degrees Celsius) on my phone, and cry myself back to sleep. If I am brave enough to make it out, I usually put on three coats. Going into my local gym with a rugby chair usually gets a few looks, but when I go in looking like the Michelin Man, I get a few more quizzical looks.


5. Watching alpine skiers go faster than my car does

Alpine skiers go an upwards of 60 miles per hour or 100km per hour on the slopes. I drove 30 miles an hour to school the other day in a snowstorm. That just isn't right. I know they have gravity on their side, but still. Why don't we have flying cars yet? Ugh.


4. Not getting to compete outside, in natural air conditioning

I know I just complained about the cold. But that's just for everyday living. Competing in the cold? I love it. I sweat profusely in some arenas. It's to the point where instead of a blood jersey, we have a sweat jersey for me. It's made of plastic and coated non-stick cooking spray. I kid, but seriously, I would love playing rugby outside. We actually did once, and it was sweet.


3. Constantly fearing that my next rugby opponent is right around the corner

As I mentioned, the alpine skiers are going an upwards of 60 miles an hour. On a mountain. With no padding. I have enough to deal with between Ryley Batt, Zak Madell, and Mandip Sehmi. I don't need more competition. Yes, when wheelchair rugby players see crashes and accidents, our first thought is usually “Do we have a new rugby player?” Some might see this as a little pre-emptive. I prefer to just see it as we look on the bright side of things.


2. ‘Only’ having a world title to play for this year

I've had people ask me if I am competing in Sochi for the Paralympics. And I say no, rugby is a summer sport, but we have World Championships this summer. Some people think that is great, and I do appreciate them. But I have had a couple people, strangers mostly, say “Just Worlds? Oh. That's … nice.” I've never felt so lame for saying I'm competing for a world title.


1. Attempting various Winter Paralympic sports … and failing

I'll break this down by sport. I've tried ice sledge hockey, cross-country skiing, and I have actually tried biathlon. Yes, they let me and my sausage fingers fire a rifle … a laser one that is. Don't worry I didn't blind anyone. That I know of. And if I did, and you are reading this, I have got a sport for you. So biathlon did not go well for me. Sledge hockey, I was OK at. I would say my biggest strength was moving. I was very good at that. My weaknesses? Stopping. This made sledge hockey challenging to say the least. I invented a move where I would hit the boards, fall over, get up, turn my sledge around, and go. Feel free to call it “the Aoki” when you see sledge hockey stars like Brad Bowden and Josh Pauls doing it in Sochi, as I'm sure they will be. And Nordic skiing? Let's just say I am the first person to attempt to complete the local course here in my home of Minnesota backwards. Was this unintentional? Yes. Was it terrifying? Slightly. But am I proud to say I hold this distinct honor? I sure am. No pain, no gain.


I've had some fun here, but in all seriousness, I hope you all join me in watching in the Paralympics in March on whatever network carries it in your country.