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American Paralympian Looks to Turn Tragedy into Triumph in Italy

Ralph Green was only 15 years old when his life changed forever. While walking with a friend in New York City's Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, Green was shot by another teenager and suffered nearly fatal injuries. Green hopes to become the first African-American to make a U.S. team for the Paralympics Winter Games for disabled athletes.

Ralph Green was a five-sport athlete in high school and was walking with a friend in Brooklyn when gunfire hit both of them. Green lost two and one-third liters of blood, and the bullet smashed his hipbone, severed his aorta, and damaged his intestines.

Green lay in a coma for two months, and lost his left leg due to the injuries. But now he skis on one leg in four events, and he hopes to make the U.S. Paralympic team. Green told VOA Sports the director of the non-profit organization called ASPIRE first encouraged him to take up skiing.

"Patty Rossbeck was the program director and she said, 'Hey Ralph, we are going to take you skiing,'" he said. "This is after seeing me compete in a couple of Summer Games. I looked at Patty like she was crazy, but I went skiing and it was a feeling that stuck with me throughout my life."

Ralph eventually moved to Winter Park, Colorado, where he now trains for the Winter Paralympics. He says that skiing has become his life, with constant hard work and training.

"My team, we prepare year round," he added. "We ski every single month of the year. In the summer time we go down to New Zealand or Chile, and we go out to Europe in October. So every single athlete on my team is prepared. And it is going to be lot of fun. It is my first Paralympics and I am looking forward to going out there and competing to the best of my ability."

Ralph Green competes on one ski with outriggers attached to the bottom of his ski poles for balance. On the slopes he can reach speeds in excess of 104 kilometers per hour. Green told VOA Sports that he plans to compete in four disciplines - downhill, slalom, giant slalom and Super-giant slalom. And he plans to go for the title in all of them.

"You know, when I first started ski racing, I wanted to be a four-event skier. As far as my World Cup results, I had my best results in slalom," he said. "But I am going to attack every single course in every single event as if it were the only event I was competing in."

Though gunfire nearly ended his life at age 15, Ralph Green is not bitter about the results of the attack. The young man who shot him and his companion in 1993 was arrested on another offense. Green told VOA Sports that he has not had the chance to talk to his assailant, but he holds no hard feelings against him.

"At that time when he was caught, I was a lot younger, and I was not as mature as I am now. And I am not sure I would have known what to say to him," he said. "But if I had the opportunity to speak to him now, I would definitely try to figure out why I was shot, and I would definitely try to understand why he was in the position he was in to shoot me. I know there are a lot of lost souls in America, and obviously I caught him at a bad time in his life."

The second of five children, Ralph Green says he enjoys serving as a role model, especially for his two younger brothers. Green says that he will never forget the roar of the crowd in his first international event, the 2004 World Disabled Alpine Championships, where he finished 14th in the Super-giant slalom.

Ralph Green, 28, is poised to become the first African-American winter Paralympian to represent the United States in the. The U.S. Paralympic team will be named February 10. The Paralympics begin March 10 in Turin, Italy, the same city that will host the Winter Olympics in February.