Sports

Colorado's Paralympians Heading for Beijing

Kyle Taulman is a CU Boulder student and Paralympian.
Kyle Taulman is a CU Boulder student and Paralympian. Luc Percival
Nine athletes who regularly train in Colorado through the National Sports Center for the Disabled will compete for Team USA in this year’s Paralympics, which run from March 4 to March 13 in Beijing. The Colorado members, who train under competition director Erik Petersen, include Andrew Kurka, Tyler Carter, Patrick Halgren, Robert Enigl and David Williams. Westword caught up with three more of Colorado’s Paralympians as they made their final preparations for the Games.

Jasmin Bambur is a sitting alpine skier competing in Slalom and Giant Slalom. He’s been a paralympian since 2010, when he represented Serbia at the Vancouver games. Since then, he’s made the United States his home, partially because the Paralympic Committee of Serbia is underfunded. His wife is American, so coming here was a natural fit. Now he lives in Denver and trains in Winter Park.

Bambur hasn’t met Denver’s best-known Serbian sensation, National Basketball Association MVP and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic. A huge Nuggets fan, he's met Jokic’s wife and brothers, however. “It would be wonderful to sit and chat over some coffee,” he says of Jokic, but as a fellow athlete, he understands how busy his schedule is.

The NSCD trains in Winter Park during the winter and travels to various locations around the globe, including New Zealand and Chile, in the summer to get in extra months of training. Since the pandemic has limited international travel, the team has gone to Mount Hood in Oregon. “It’s very intense, and if you throw family and kids and work in the equation, it’s a demanding schedule. But if you want to be successful, then you apply yourself,” Bambur says.

This will be his fourth Paralympics, and Bambur, who is paralyzed from the waist down because of a 2000 motor vehicle accident, hopes to finally reach the podium. Though this edition of the Games is different than it has been in the past because of COVID, Bambur says that alpine skiers are used to navigating factors out of their control, including weather, type of snow and temperature.

“I definitely have experience on my side,” Bambur says. “I love to race, and I will do everything to win. But the beauty of the sport is that you can’t win every single time, and that is what makes these medals so special.”

The 42-year-old won’t close the door on another Paralympics run; he loves Italy and would like to compete there in 2026. But he also has a full life, with three daughters and u-Med, a company that he runs with his wife that distributes medical supplies to people with disabilities.

Two of his daughters are ski racers, and if they’re training on the same mountain, they sometimes ask to train with him. “I’m so proud of them, and it’s so much fun to have them around doing the same thing as I am,” he says. “They can hop over. It kind of makes it a little bit comical, but it works out; it’s cool.”

Bambur congratulates all of his teammates for their dedication and the sacrifices they make training for the Olympics. “Representing the U.S. is absolutely wonderful, and all my friends are here and it’s an honor,” he says. “We’re going to go to Beijing and kick some ass.”
click to enlarge Allie Johnson will compete in every alpine skiing discipline in Beijing. - DISABLED SPORTS EASTERN SIERRA
Allie Johnson will compete in every alpine skiing discipline in Beijing.
Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra
NSCD is also sending some rookies. First-time Olympian Allie Johnson will compete in all four alpine skiing events at the games: the Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom and Super Combined. Johnson lives in Fraser, close to Winter Park, where she trains and where her grandparents volunteered with NSCD for many years.

Although the 27-year-old Johnson has skied since she was four, she only started ski racing about three years ago. When she worked for NSCD as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor, a co-worker encouraged her to check it out. “I had just graduated from [Colorado State University] and was looking for more direction in my life, so I thought, “Sure, why not?’ And I got hooked,” Johnson recalls.

She still has more work to do to become a medalist, she says, but qualifying after taking up the sport so recently is a “dream come true.” Making Johnson’s paralympic journey even more impressive is that she broke her tibia and fibula in February 2020, cutting her three years in sport closer to two years of actual training.

Johnson flew to Los Angeles from Denver on February 22 before making her way to Beijing. In L.A., she was fitted with her outfits for the opening and closing ceremonies at Ralph Lauren, went to Nike for gear fittings, and received a gift bag from Skims by Kim Kardashian. “It was like the coolest thing ever,” she says. “You walk in and they’re blasting music; they’re cheering for you. It kind of made it feel real for the first time.”

She’ll carry parts of her grandparents with her. Her grandmother who lives in Winter Park tailored her speed suit and jacket for the Games, altering them to fit Johnson, who is a congenital amputee; her right arm ends right below the elbow. “It was really cute,” Johnson says of the outfit. “She asked her quilting group how to do it, and it looks great.”

Her grandfather on the other side of the family died last month. “He wasn’t really a skier, so he was just always in awe about how fast I could go,” she says. “I know he’s going to be able to be with me.” Although the Games are closed to spectators, Johnson will be there with her fellow Team USA members, cheering them on.

One of those athletes is Kyle Taulman, an alpine skier and University of Colorado Boulder electrical engineering student. Taulman grew up in Steamboat Springs; when he was two years old, a cancerous tumor partially paralyzed him. His mother, Julie Taulman, now director of business development for NSCD, ran Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports while Kyle was growing up, giving him early exposure to adaptive sports and instilling a dream of competing in the Paralympics.

“I grew up in the adaptive community with a lot of role models, literally roll models because they’re in wheelchairs,” Taulman jokes. “Now I get to do that, too, and be an inspiration for others.”

Twenty-year-old Taulman is competing in slalom at Beijing, and hopes to qualify in all four alpine disciplines at future Paralympics. He and his family often went to Winter Park to ski recreationally. When he was nine years old, some of the race skiers training there encouraged him to try race skiing. “I only made it through a few gates, then crashed,” he recalls. “My instructor and my mom were mortified, but the racers were cheering.” He’s been racing ever since, transitioning from NSCD’s recreational program to its competitive one.

His experience in engineering both helps and hinders him, he says. “A lot of adaptive equipment is specialized, because every person’s body and disability is different,” Taulman explains. “It’s in the name: adapt. It’s helped me come up with solutions to make me faster with my equipment, but it can be a detriment with over-analysis of my practice videos.”

Despite sometimes being overly critical of himself, he’s always maintained a positive mindset toward adaptive sport. Growing up in a mountain town, he recalls many times that he couldn’t do activities his friends wanted to do, like hammocking, hiking or backcountry skiing — but adaptive sport let him push boundaries and do those things.

“I’m very excited, although I’m a person who tries not to get too excited until I’m there,” he says. “Once I’m there on the ground in the village, I will feel a lot better. Like, cool, I can finally take this in and enjoy it.”
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire