ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Immediately following the Winter Olympics this March, Pyeongchang will host the Paralympics. Palmer’s Andrew Kurka and Grace Miller will represent Alaska as members of Team USA.
Kurka is an alpine skier while Miller is a cross-country skier.
The Paralympics is an international competition that runs parallel to the Olympics games every four years, for athletes with physical disabilities.
At the age of 13, Andrew Kurka severely damaged three vertebrae in the middle of his spinal cord in an ATV accident.
After the injury, the Mat-Su teen would take to mono-skiing through Challenge Alaska, an organization that teaches adaptive skiing and snowboarding in Girdwood.
Kurka made the national team in 2010, making his Paralympics debut in 2014. The 26-year-old competes in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and super combined.
Recently at the World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup in Kimberley, Canada, he took home gold and bronze medals in Men’s Downhill, plus a gold medal in the Men's Super-G.
"To represent Alaska is the largest honor especially when I'm out competing,” said Kurka. “Being an Alaskan for me means just as much as it does to be an American."
The newest Alaskan addition to Team USA is cross-country skier Grace Miller.
“I always took skiing as a fun thing, never as this competitive thing I could be in,” said Miller.
Miller was born without a left forearm, and at 3 years old, she was adopted from China, and moved to Alaska. Despite her disability, her mother, Kymberly Miller, encouraged her to cross-country ski.
“For quite a while people tried handing me poles, I was like, 'No, I can't take that,' ” said Miller. “I'll hear people saying 'is she missing a pole?' before they realize I have one hand.”
The Paralympic games were never on the 18-year-old's mind until she a met a development coach in Alaska on a recruiting trip.
Miller was soon invited to a training camp in Oregon, eventually competing in the World Cup in Canada.
“That was the first time I had ever seen anybody else ski with one hand,” said Miller explaining her experience at the World Cup.
She performed well enough there to be chosen for the 2018 Team USA Paralympic Nordic Ski Team.
The Paralympic games begin in South Korea on March 8.