Tuesday, March 11, 2014
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Maine native James Upham is the nordic coach for the U.S. Paralympic team that will be competing in Sochi next month. He is seen in front of his home in Portland. Friday, February 21, 2014. (John Patriquin/Staff Photographer)
Eileen Carey, the U.S. Paralympic program director – and another former vice president of the Maine Winter Sports Center – said Upham has the ideal temperament for the position.
“He has made the sport accessible,” said Carey, who grew up in Leeds and skied at Leavitt High in Turner. “There are a lot of new athletes in our program, and this is an incredibly difficult sport. It requires a lot of training, strength and mental fortitude.”
“He does a great job for us,” said Farra, who also worked at the Maine Winter Sports Center. “He brings that calm, cool Maine attitude and confidence that he developed over the years.”
And he has shown a great ability to adjust his coaching style to parathletes.
“We adapt all the time,” said Farra. “We use the things we pick up coaching able-bodied athletes and adapt to the athletes that are in front of us.”
“When we’re out there, it’s like we’re working with any athlete,” said Upham. “If they do well, we get excited. If they don’t, we get upset.”
Both agree that the biggest reason the Paralympic Nordic program has grown over the last four years is that they have made the sport more accessible. “We’ve been breaking down barriers to compete,” said Farra.
They have found guides for the blind competitors, equipment for disabled athletes. And they have made sure the equipment fits the athlete. Each sit ski must be made specifically for each athlete, depending on his or her disability. They make sure that anyone who wants to compete in the national tournaments has a place to stay, and transportation. “We’ve gone from having five people at the nationals, to 30,” said Farra. “But if we’re going to be a really successful program, we need 100 people at the nationals, fighting to get to the podium.”A place for vets
The program has also grown because of recruiting at military rehabilitation hospitals. Disabled veterans have been particularly eager to learn a new sport.
“They’re motivated to perform well in the sport,” said Upham. “They know how to line up a shot and how to squeeze the trigger. That makes it easy, at least the first day. Then it’s all about learning about the biathlon.”
Army veteran Andy Soule earned the first biathlon medal for the U.S. in the Olympics or Paralympics when he finished third in Vancouver in 2010.
“He’s a guy who wanted to learn the sport, and now he’s become one of the better shooters in the world,” said Upham.
He expects the U.S. team to make a good showing in Sochi. The Russians, who will have 30 competitors, are heavy favorites.
The U.S. has some competitors who can compete for medals, several who have finished fourth, fifth or sixth on the World Cup tour.
“We need to do everything in our power to turn that fourth into a third,” said Farra. “We would love to steal a couple (of medals) from the Russians on their home course.”
Upham just wants to see the program continue to progress.
“We definitely have people who, on a good day, can (medal),” he said. “But I get my satisfaction out of getting people to improve, getting them better every day.”