Hudson man will ski in 2014 Winter Paralympic Games at Sochi, Russia
When he wasn’t busy with his day job researching how to price the products produced by Twin Cities-based Medtronic, Inc., Hudson resident John Oman was dreaming about where he’ll be this Friday.
Oman, 35, is a member of the U.S. Men’s Ski Team, and will be part of the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games at Sochi, Russia, the same venue that hosted the recently completed 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
He has qualified to compete in four Nordic ski events, including one sprint, a four-man relay and two distance races for individual skiers, including events covering 10- and 20 kilometers.
Oman was born with a congenital condition that left him with no right forearm or hand, but that didn’t prevent him from excelling in a variety of sports during his growing-up years in Barron, including ice hockey and baseball.
Introduced to skiing just six years ago, Oman’s improvement in the sport has come in leaps and bounds.
“I got introduced to (skiing) by my brother (Andrew, of Bloomington, Minn.) about six years ago,” Oman said. “I started skiing in the Birkebeiner races. Two years ago, at Telemark, I met Tyler Mosher, who was a Paralympian himself and skied for the Canadian team. He asked me if I’d ever thought about international competition.”
His athletic background and competitive nature have combined to lead Oman to the top of the international skiing world in just two years.
“I’ve been a lot of local races against able-bodied skiers, races that were sanctioned by the United States Ski Association,” Oman said.
“I started earning points that allowed me to get a starting position at world-level events.”
Cross-country skiing is difficult to measure only by finishing times, Oman said.
“There’s no such thing as a standard course,” he said. “Some have hills and some don’t. Snow conditions are always different, so times are not a good comparison.”
Instead, sanctioned races are assigned points that are weighted by conditions, so that results can be compared to one another on a more even ‘playing field,’ so to speak.
“If you compete in sanctioned races, they can benchmark you against other skiers,” Oman said.
“I started getting on the radar of the U.S. coaches a couple years ago, and they invited me to ski in a World Cup event last year up at Telemark (in Cable, Wis.),” he said.
But when it comes to making the U.S. Paralympic ski team, it’s not just about hitting a benchmark. It’s also about holding off the competition.
“When I ran the first race, that's how I made the team,” Oman said. “I hit an international qualifier level.
“But this year, I had to re-earn the spot. The coach doesn't want you to just sit back. You have to do it again.”
Oman “did it again” last December, with a Paralympic-qualifying finish in a World Cup race in Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
“It's just outside of Calgary -- it was the official course for the 1988 Winter Olympics,” Oman said.
After only two years of international competition, Oman boarded a flight to Germany last Sunday, March 2, where he joined the rest of the team, including 16 athletes and about a dozen staff.
The team then took a charter flight to the scene of the recently-concluded Winter Olympics outside of Sochi, a Black Sea resort city surrounded by the Caucuses Mountains in southeastern Russia.
“We will live in the Olympic Village -- at one of the two main venues (for the Games),” he said. “We're at the venue up in the mountains. The opening ceremony is March 7 and the closing is March 16.”
Oman said that NBC, the network that carried the Winter Games, has committed to 50 hours of televised coverage for the Paralympics.
But even as he faces the best Paralympic skiers in the world, Oman said he’s also indulging in something that makes him feel good, too.
“For a lot of athletes, if they get into something this serious, it feels more like a job,” he said. “But for me, skiing is something I love to do. I'll be going along a trail, and all of a sudden, a smile will come across my face.”
Because he works fulltime during the days, Oman said he often trains at night, with a headlamp to guide him or (one of his favorite times) under a full moon.
“It’s beautiful -- serene. A lot of my training can be relaxed,” he said.
But that’s not to say that the Winter Games will be relaxing.
“The racing part is definitely different,” Oman said. “It can be so intense, it’s close to total exhaustion, (where you go) past the point where you thought you could go.”
But with an activity he loves to do, “it’s awesome to be able to do both the intense and serene,” he said.
Barron News-Shield editor Bob Zientara contributed to this story