Aaron Pike ready to race after swapping snow for road

Dual-sport athlete back in racing chair after second Winter Games 11 May 2018
a male wheelchair athlete smiles at the camera

Aaron Pike is preparing for a marathon summer following his second Winter Games

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By Lena Smirnova | For the IPC

“The first couple of days I was going really easy trying get the feel back. The racing chair is so much different than Nordic skiing so it took me a couple days to just feel comfortable being back in the racing chair."

Just one week after competing in four gruelling races at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, Nordic skier Aaron Pike was back in training, except this time there was no snow for him to contend with.

Pike represents Team USA in Para cross-country skiing, Para biathlon and Para athletics at the top international level. PyeongChang 2018 marked his second time competing in Nordic skiing at the Paralympic Games. He has also competed in athletics at two summer editions of the Games, at London 2012 and Rio 2016.

The multi-sport athlete first tried Nordic skiing to take a break from his summer sport, but liked it too much to let it go.

“After my first time trying Nordic skiing I knew that it wasn't going to be my last time,” Pike said. “I liked the sport immediately and knew that I wouldn't be able to give it up. So then I decided that I was going to try to balance the two sports.”

The main challenge of choosing this path, as Pike quickly found out, was to stay competitive in both sports.

“I knew that I was not going to be OK with sacrificing my potential in wheelchair racing so that I could become better at Nordic skiing,” he said.

“That first season I took a long break from the racing chair leading up to the Sochi [2014] Paralympic Games I was really nervous about getting back in the racing chair to find that I was slow and would need to take a long time to get back to the elite level. I was very surprised to find out that it didn't take me very long to get back to the elite level.”

Ultimately, training in Nordic skiing helped Pike to improve in wheelchair racing as well.

“So far they have worked really well together,” Pike said about balancing the two sports. “I have been able to come off of the winter season and get into the racing chair and feel strong within four weeks.

“I would attribute that to the fact that I have been doing wheelchair racing for about 12 years. Without that long history in the racing chair it would not be possible. It takes a long time to learn the stroke for wheelchair racing and become efficient in wheelchair racing. I would say that if I started both sports around the same time, then it would not have been possible.”

However, in addition to the benefits of training in two sports, there are also major drawbacks. There is a significant financial challenge to pursuing Paralympic sports, Pike said. The athlete also laments getting little free time since he has to compete non-stop during the year.

“I am training throughout the year. I take on average one week off twice a year otherwise I'm training six days a week,” Pike said. “The biggest sacrifice for me is time. There have been many instances where I have missed on events with friends or family so that I could make sure I am getting the right training.”

The athlete took just one week off from training after the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games which he spent trying alpine skiing for the first time.

“After about a week off I went home to Champaign, Illinois and started practicing with the University of Illinois team right away,” Pike said.

“The first couple of days I was going really easy trying get the feel back. The racing chair is so much different than Nordic skiing so it took me a couple days to just feel comfortable being back in the racing chair. For the past three weeks I have been practicing Monday to Saturday with four of those days being two practices a day. I've been spending time training on the road as well as the track.”

Pike has an intense competition schedule this racing season. He plans to compete in two marathons in Chicago and New York later this year, and in many road races this summer, including every weekend in May.

“My focus is doing well in the major marathons and also preparing myself for making the Paralympic team to Tokyo 2020 with the ultimate goal of medalling in the marathon.”