Thursday, March 1st
CRAFTSBURY COMMON, Vt. -- The sport of biathlon requires both physical endurance and sharp mental focus.
Dan Cnossen has been honing those skills his entire life and will put them to the test when he competes in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, which begin next week in PyeongChang, South Korea.
"It's a huge honor anytime you get to wear a uniform representing the U.S.", said Cnossen. "This is something I've been training for for a while."
But before Dan represented the U.S., he served it. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Cnossen was a Navy SEAL...and while serving as a platoon commander for SEAL Team One in Afghanistan in September of 2009, Cnossen stepped on an IED and was wounded in the explosion. The incident caused Cnossen to lose both his legs just above the knee. He was awarded both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor from the Secretary of the Navy for his service in combat. During his rehabilitation, as he learned to walk with his new prosthetics, he was approached about the possibility of becoming a Paralympian.
"After my injury I was in D.C. for a couple of years, going through physical therapy and rehabilitation. Learning how to walk on prosthetics. That's when I was introduced to Paralympic sports.", said Cnossen. "Initially it was a way to get out in the woods and cover distance and be mobile and naturally it progressed to racing."
Cnossen took to the challenge right away. He competed in his first world championships in 2011...and his first Paralympic Winter Games in 2014 in Sochi, racing in both nordic skiing and biathlon...his best finish, a sixth in cross-country sprint. In six total events, he never placed lower than 14th and last month he won three gold medals at the U.S. Nationals.
"I'm sliding into the PyeongChang Games under the radar and yet, I know I'm skiing faster than ever before."
And if training for a world class athletic competition wasn't hard enough, during the week, Dan is commuting back down to his home in Boston to continue work on his Master's degree from Harvard.
"I'm in my final of three years at Harvard Kennedy and Divinity Schools. My concentration is in religion, ethics and politics. I am really enjoying the mind and body blend of being a graduate student and a Paralympic athlete.
Being a Paralympian has not only allowed Cnossen to continue to challenge himself athletically, but also see the world in a way he did not expect.
"One of the great things about being on the Paralympic team is that it has really opened my eyes to the incredible stories of people who have disabilities from other countries. To be honest, before my injury, disability issues were not even near the front of my consciousness, so I probably, I would think, have become a more well-rounded person since being injured.
During parts of each of the past two winters, Cnossen has commuted between Boston and the Craftsbury Outdoor Center to train. This past weekend, he was wrapping up a five week stretch of such round trips before leaving for the games. Dan feels he's peaking at the right time and credits the team at Craftsbury for making it possible.
"It is so worth my time to come up to Craftsbury, the staff here is so accommodating, I'm skiing faster than I ever have before. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter if I medal or no. I know that's what the focus ends up being on is medals, but that doesn't really matter. I just want to go and see what I as an individual can do, as well as part of a team."
Cnossen leaves for South Korea on Friday. His first medal event, in biathlon, is set for Saturday, March 10th.