A race for the podium became a race for pride after Juneau's Joe Tompkins fell and missed a gate during the country's first major event of the year for disabled skiers, a giant slalom race Friday at Breckenridge Ski Area in Colorado held as part of the resort's annual Ski Spectacular.
Tompkins had been ranked fourth among the mono-skiers after the first run, but midway through the second run disaster struck. Tompkins leaned a little bit too far into the mountain and overshot a gate. He stopped and pulled himself back up about 10 feet to get around the missed gate, but the 30-plus seconds he lost dropped Tompkins back to eighth among the mono-skiers and 24th out of the 40 competitors in the adjusted standings.
"I did terrible," Tompkins said. "I pooched it on the second run. I hit my bucket, and the bucket's my seat."
Tompkins won the first official Disabled World Cup race ever held, a two-run sprint downhill race on the same mountain last December. But Tompkins said Friday's giant slalom race was a much different event.
"It was probably 10 degrees," Tompkins said. "It was snowin', blowin' and friggin' cold."
Tompkins said several other skiers went off the course at that same gate, but he decided to backtrack and keep going even though he was out of contention. Chris Waddell of Park City, Utah, one of Tompkins' teammates on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, won the race.
"I climbed for pride," he said. "I could have gone off the course there, but I wanted to finish the first race of the season. I skied wonderful on the first run. But on the second run I took things a little too straight, a little too fast. I didn't have enough patience."
Tompkins, 32, is a C Team member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team's alpine squad. He made the team last year, but Tompkins said he considers this year his rookie season. Even though he won the World Cup race last year, Tompkins said his mind was affected by the skiing death of a teammate a few days before his victory. The teammate, who was also one of Tompkins' training partners in Winter Park, Colo., lost control of his mono-ski, slid backwards into a tree and suffered a fatal head injury.
Tompkins said he's hoping the new season means a fresh start.
"After that first race, I skied scared and I lost a lot of confidence," Tompkins said. "Skiing with a clean head is pretty important."
Despite his tentativeness on the slopes, Tompkins still did well on the International Ski Federation's point standings for disabled skiers. Tompkins finished 18th in the overall FIS standings for sitting skiers. Tompkins was eighth in the FIS downhill standings, 16th in the super giant slalom (super-G), 31st in giant slalom (GS) and 24th in slalom.
"I feel I'm stronger in the super-G and the downhill," Tompkins said. "The GS and slalom have too many gates. I'm still a little behind where I was last year (in training), but I'll get there. I've been in the weight room trying to lose some weight, so I don't bust so many skis."
Tompkins will return to Juneau for the Christmas holidays, then returns to the U.S. Disabled Ski Team in January. He said he's not sure if he'll go to Europe for World Cup races, or if he'll stay in the United States.
"Whether or not I go to Europe depends on whether I have enough money, and I probably won't have enough," said Tompkins, who has a few friends trying to find him some sponsors. "It's a struggle. I'd rather just ski. I'm not much of a talker, and I'd rather just let my results do the talking."
Tompkins, who was paralyzed in a 1988 car wreck, got his start in disabled skiing from programs like ORCA (Outdoor Recreation and Community Access), Challenge Alaska and the Juneau Lions Club's disabled ski program. Tompkins said if community members don't want to sponsor his skiing, they should sponsor Juneau-Douglas High School senior Seth McBride who was paralyzed this summer in a skiing accident.
"If you don't sponsor me, then sponsor a young guy like Seth, who just went through a dramatic change in his life," Tompkins said. "Let's help get him a mono-ski. There's a lot of potential there. He's only 18 and he's already a skier, and he wants to get out on the slopes."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.