Ralph Green was a well-rounded junior athlete. He excelled as a football quarterback and basketball point guard for his high school in Brooklyn, N.Y. His life dramatically changed at the age of 15 when a gunshot wound in the back resulted in the amputation of his left leg from the hip down. Today, Green, 36, is the first African-American male to make the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team.
A two-time Paralympian, Green, took a moment to reflect on his career and future aspirations before heading to Sochi to compete for Team USA at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Q: You’ve come a long way to get to where you are today, including overcoming a gunshot wound as a teen. How has this injury affected you?
RG: Being a 15-year-old and having such a dramatic event occur in your life will change you forever. I went from being an athletic stud to being dependent on doctors to move me out of my bed. I was angry at first, but learned to get past those feelings and realized life is short and unexpected things can happen at any time. My outlook changed due to the trials and tribulations that I went through during this period of time and as a result, I’ve learned to take nothing for granted.
Q: A few years after losing your leg, you were introduced to the sport of alpine skiing. What inspired you to try skiing?
RG: I took up the sport almost out of the blue in the late 1990s. When I first left the hospital and began to navigate life without my left leg, I tried sports I was familiar with like track and field. A few years later, I decided to try skiing. Initially, I did it just to brag to my friends, but soon enough I was determined to master the sport and would not let anything stand in my way. I told myself I was going to ski until I was the best and defying expectations became my goal. I moved to Winter Park, Colo. to train with the National Sports Center for the Disabled and in a few seasons, I made the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team., becoming the first African-American to do so.
Q: Describe what it felt like to become the first African-American man to compete at the Paralympic level.
RG: Anytime anyone can break a barrier in something it’s a big deal. When I first started skiing, it was all about representing my hometown. I worked hard to make the U.S. Paralympic Team twice. Ski racing is really you against the mountain and I was not scared to go fast or to crash and I learned you have to power through and finish – fear is not a factor. I’m grateful for all the opportunities skiing has given me.
Q: You are now training for your third Paralympic appearance. What does that mean to you?
RG: Being given the chance to represent my country is a true honor. These games are special because they could very well be my last. I still have unfinished business and I really want to accomplish my goals in Sochi. I am putting myself in a position to be successful, and I can only hope for the best.
Q: You’re enrolled at DeVry University, earning your bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing and sales. How have you been able to pursue your academic and athletic goals simultaneously?
RG: I am disciplined and committed to both my class schedule as well as my ski training. My course work has actually helped me to become a better ski racer – I carry the sense of control and focus I apply in the classroom over to the slopes. The combination of onsite and online courses at DeVry enables me and other Team USA athletes flexible access to career-oriented degree programs so we can be ready for our post-Olympic and post-Paralympic futures.
Q: When you’re not on the slopes, what do you like to do to unwind or to have fun?
RG: For me, skiing and school are fun. They both keep me occupied and I am constantly learning from both endeavors. I also enjoy camping, biking, riding my motorcycle, bowling, and relaxing in my La-Z-Boy chair.
Q: What do you intend to do after the Paralympics?
RG: I plan to use my degree to embark on a career in the sports industry after my competition days come to an end. I want to continue to show my family and hometown that anything is possible – that you can be successful in both academics and athletics, and that you can’t let fear stop you from achieving greatness.
DeVry University is an official education provider of the United States Olympic Committee. To learn more about Green or other Team USA student athletes who are competing in the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, visit newsroom.devry.edu. To follow Green’s journey during the games, follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bkskiman.