By Katy Savage
Growing up, Spencer Wood didn’t know he had a disability.
Wood, a Pittsfield native, was diagnosed as a baby but his parents didn’t tell him until he was 10 and they didn’t let his disability get in his way.
“We didn’t want it to be a crutch,” his mother Barb Wood said. “We didn’t want his impairment to be a disability. We wanted him to figure out life. He has never thought that way.”
Wood had a left-brain stroke before he was born, which left him with hemiparesis — permanent weakness and muscle deficits on his right side. He has mobility issues and motor control problems.
“I kind of slam my right foot,” Wood, 25, said. “From just looking at me, you would never know.”
His parents, who were both ski instructors at Killington Resort, put him on skis when he was 2. By 5, Wood was racing with able-bodied peers.
Ski boots helped Wood’s right achilles tendon, which is very tight.
“It pushes you forward and stretches the achilles a little bit more,” Barb said. “We found that the ski boot was therapeutic for him, it served a purpose.”
Skiing was where Wood felt equal, after trying soccer, lacrosse and baseball.
“He was like everybody else,” Barb said. “It wasn’t noticeable that he couldn’t catch a baseball with his right hand and couldn’t kick with his right foot.”
Now Wood, a Killington Mountain School graduate, has made it to the top of his sport. He’s in China, getting ready to compete in the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing in Alpine skiing events, March 4-13.
This will be his second Paralympic games. He competed in the 2018 Paralympics in Pyeongchang, where he finished 25th in the giant slalom. Though he was “super nervous” four years ago, this time, Wood said he feels more confident.
“I know what to expect when it comes to the media, the signage — the lights and cameras of it all,” Wood said. “Your first games, you’re stunned. Your second games, you compete.”
The Paralympics are held every four years after the Olympics. Athletes are given a factor based on their disability by a panel of international doctors.
In 2018, Wood was placed in the same category as someone who has a below-knee amputation. But, he’s since been re-assessed. This year, he’ll be in the same category as someone who has an upper arm extremity — a big advantage.
“I feel way more at home, I feel like I’m in my own class,” Wood said. Wood started competing in paralympic events as a junior at Killington Mountain School.
“He tried really hard to ski within the able bodied network but his disability was affecting him at a young age,” said Greg Hadley, the admissions director at KMS and one of the head coaches.
Hadley introduced Wood to paralympic skiing, though Wood was hesitant at first.
“Just to get him to believe that this is OK —it took him some time to get comfortable with that,” Hadley said.
Wood spent time at a summer training camp in Austria with the Austria Para-alpine team and quickly changed his mind.
“Spencer was blown away,” Barb said.
He started adaptive training his junior and senior year at KMS. Wood did the Hartford Ski Spectacular for Vermont Adaptive and excelled. The head coach there, Erik Peterson, told Wood, “you could go to the paralympics,” Barb said.
Wood graduated from the University of Colorado last May with a degree in communications. While there, he trained at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado. He said being away has made him appreciate where he grew up.
“The Killington legacy and growing up in Pittsfield, I didn’t appreciate it,” he said. “It really reinforced the fact that I need to live in a small mountain town.”
In a small town, Wood said skiing is everything.
“It’s everything you do,” Wood said. “Your whole life revolves around ‘when can I get out and go skiing again.’”
Wood is one of two KMS graduates at the Olympics. Hannah Soar, 22, a freestyle skier, finished seventh in the moguls competition in Beijing.
“It’s exciting for the area,” Hadley said. “It’s exciting for Killington Mountain School.”
Wood’s best event is downhill. He’s also competing in super- G and slalom. In 2018, he only did the giant slalom and slalom. Though he’s not a medal contender, Wood hopes to improve from his last games.
“My goal is to get top 10 in the downhill,” he said.