By U.S. ParalympicsMarch 15, 2010
WHISTLER, British Columbia (Army News Service, March 13, 2010) -- U.S. Army Afghanistan veteran Andy Soule Saturday won what was not only the first U.S. medal of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, but also the first-ever medal for the U.S. Paralympic Biathlon team.
After placing fifth in the morning qualification race, Soule came from behind in the final race of the men's sitting 2.4-km pursuit to win the bronze medal on the opening day of competition.
"After I passed [Sergey] Shilov, I just hammered it and didn't look back," said Soule. "It felt just incredible. I've had World Cup wins and World Cup podiums before, but there's nothing quite like this - in this atmosphere, in front of the crowd here with everyone watching."
Soule is a retired Soldier from Pearland, Texas, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom. He was a cadet at Texas A&M during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that prompted him to enlist.
While on a security patrol in the Shinkay District of Afghanistan May 21, 2005, Soule was a gunner in the back of a Humvee when an improvised explosive device detonated. The explosion killed one Soldier and damaged Soule's legs, leading to a double amputation above the knees.
Soule was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he spent the next several years recuperating at Brooke Army Medical Center. During his rehabilitation, he began looking for ways to keep active.
"We had a number of opportunities (at Brook Army Medical Center) to get involved in various sports through some local organizations," said Soule. "One of those sports we got involved with was handcycling."
While Soule was participating in a bike ride in San Antonio in 2005, he met the director of Wood River Ability Program, Mark Mast, who encouraged Soule to get involved with cross country skiing.
"Mark thought I had potential as a cross country skier," said Soule. "He runs a camp every winter for the U.S. Adaptive Cross Country Ski Team to develop new athletes and he invited me to it."
Soule had never even tried cross country skiing prior to his injury. In fact, he had very little skiing experience. "I had been downhill skiing a couple of times, but that was it," said Soule.
A year after attending the camp he moved to Sun Valley, Idaho to begin to train full-time at the Sun Valley Nordic Center.
He was hooked and with impressive results at the 2007 U.S. Championships and two consecutive top-10 finishes in his first World Cup races, Soule earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Team.
"It was a great race," said U.S. Biathlon Paralympic Head Coach Greg Rawlings of Soule's performance Saturday. "He went into it with a great attitude and just started reeling people in. He missed one and went around the penalty loop, but didn't stress it. He just kept going and cleaned it on the final. I think his brain switched right there and he figured out that he was in the game. He was able to pick people off one at a time until he was at the line."
Top-ranked Irek Zaripov of Russia won gold with a time of 9:51.00, while Ukraine's Iurii Kostiuk crossed the finish line +47.9 for silver. Soule, who entered competition ranked fourth overall in International Paralympic Committee World Cup points, posted a final time of 10:53.01.
"Andy did an amazing job today, coming from behind in the last loop with one penalty. It was a spectacular performance and I couldn't be more proud of him," said U.S. Biathlon Executive Director Max Cobb. "U.S. Biathlon just got involved in the Paralympics about two and a half years ago. For us, this is validation of the athletes' hard work, of the coaches' work with them and the fact that the American team can win medals at the Paralympic level in biathlon."
Biathlon competition continues at Whistler Olympic Park on Wednesday with the men's sitting 12.5 km, women's sitting 10 km, men's and women's standing 12.5 km, and men's and women's visually impaired 12.5 km events.