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U.S. Disabled Ski Team member Joe Tompkins of Juneau reached the podium in all three of his events during the Eastern Regional Disabled Ski Championships held Wednesday through Friday in Waterville Valley, N.H.
Tompkins, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1988 car accident, finished third among mono-skiers in Wednesday's super giant slalom (super-G) race, was third in a giant slalom (GS) race on Thursday and closed out the week with a second-place finish in Friday's slalom race. When contacted at his hotel in Waterville Valley, Tompkins said he made mistakes in his first two races and was pleased about the way he was able to recover from them.
"This is my fourth year at the Eastern championships and I've done fairly well, but not this well, before," Tompkins said Friday afternoon. "Most definitely, I'm happy. And knowing I could have done better makes me even more happy."
In Wednesday's super-G, Tompkins said he "bucketed-out," a term mono-skiers use for when they lean too far into a turn and the bucket of their mono-ski touches the snow. Tompkins said there are two things that can happen when a mono-skier buckets-out, the contact can either pop the mono-ski back upright or the mono-skier will lose control and slide down the mountain on his side.
On Thursday, Tompkins said one of the outriggers on the bottom of his ski poles got stuck when he tried to leave the starting gate for the first of his two GS runs. The outrigger froze into the snow, and Tompkins said he had to jam it a couple of times to free it.
Friday's two slalom runs were much cleaner, but Tompkins said there were little things he thought he could have done better that might have cut some of his time. He said the two bigger mistakes both probably cost him a spot in the standings.
"Yeah, it was better, but you'll never find a skier who doesn't think they couldn't have done something better," Tompkins said. "It's good to know I made those mistakes and still finished the way I did. I definitely would have moved up if I hadn't had the two mistakes."
The three races were the first for Tompkins since Dec. 8, when he competed in a GS event in Breckenridge, Colo. In that race, Tompkins was fourth after the first run but dropped to eighth place among mono-skiers after falling and missing a gate on the second run, then having to backtrack up the hill to get the missed gate.
"I got two thirds and a second for my first real races of the year," Tompkins said. "That event in early December was more a kind of a fun thing than a serious race. The conditions were the best I've ever seen for here, usually we're on ice up here."
Tompkins said he's been working on trying to get his head together after a friend and training partner was killed in a ski accident last winter, and he thought the Eastern Regional Disabled Ski CHampionships were better for him than joining the rest of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team for Disabled World Cup races Jan. 8-11 in Abtenau, Austria, and Jan. 13-19 in Engadin, Switzerland.
There was still top-notch competition at Waterville Valley -- Christopher Devlin-Young, a former U.S. Disabled Ski Team member making a comeback, won all three races for the mono-skiers and current U.S. Disabled Ski Team member Carl Burnett took second in the two races where Tompkins was third (Devlin-Young and Burnett both live close to Waterville Valley). But Tompkins said the races were still small enough where he could concentrate on getting his confidence back.
"It was better for me to be there getting my head tied down and getting more training than to be in Europe," Tompkins said. "The coaches all know I've been skiing kind of scared, and you can't afford to be tentative. I could feel myself loosening up, but I'm still not skiing balls out yet. I think I'll be better in Salt Lake City."
Tompkins travels to Salt Lake City on Saturday for the Huntsman Cup races Feb. 3-5 (two at Park City and one on another mountain nearby). Then Tompkins heads back to his training course at Winter Park, Colo., for two race series events -- the Wells Fargo Invitational on Feb. 9-11 and then the Columbia Crest races about Feb. 22-24. The U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Championships are March 19-24 at a location TBA.