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Disabled, Visually Impaired Skiers Competing In Mpls

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(credit: CBS) Matt Brickman
Matt Brickman is the co-host of WCCO-TV Saturday Morni...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Cross-country skiers know just how physically demanding that sport can, but try facing that challenge without use of your legs or the ability to see the trail ahead of you.

“Imagine skiing 20 miles an hour through a course, down hills and up hills without the use of your vision,” said John Farra, Director of the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Team.

Those were some of the obstacles facing athletes competing in the International Paralympic Nordic Skiing World Cup this week at Theodore Wirth Park.

“This is not a sport that you can cut corners in your training and expect to have results,” said Lt. Dan Cnossen, Navy Seal and member of the U.S. team.

After losing both legs in Afghanistan in 2009, Cnossen found sit-skiing, but the transition to a new sport wasn’t easy.

“It was like drinking out of a fire hose,” said Cnossen “I went to Sweden for my first world cup and that was a huge lesson there, on how fast some of these guys are.”

Cnossen finished near the bottom of the results in Sweden, but has improved dramatically since, finishing in the top 10 this week.

Visually impaired competitors rely on a partner to help navigate the course.

“They will ski with a guide,” said Farra. “So you’ll see a skier with a bright yellow bib, that actually says guide on it, who will often ski right in front of the skier and they’ll make an audible sound and their partner will move towards that sound.”

But don’t think that slows them down. Zebastian Modin and Albin Ackerot are here representing Sweden. Ackerot says he sometimes has trouble keeping up with Zebastian.

“Yeah, I have to train more than him, so I have to train a lot,” said Ackerot.

It’s a good reminder just how talented these competitors are. And as Farra reminds us, how amazing it is, what they’re doing.

“I challenge any of you to close your eyes for a little while and try to do it and feel confident,” said Farra.

Thursday was the last day of competition in the World Cup, but many of the athletes will be competing in this City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis this weekend.

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