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Sam Kavanagh, Paralympic Medalist, Cycling and Paralympic Hopeful, Nordic Skiing


On January 1, 2005 while backcountry skiing in Montana, 2012 Paralympian Sam Kavanagh was caught in an avalanche that resulted in a severe compound fracture on his left tibia and fibula. Sam spent two days in a tent with his leg duct-taped to a shovel, battling massive blood loss, kidney failure and life threatening infections in his leg fracture.

After nine surgeries, including the amputation to his left leg below the knee, Sam’s dream of becoming a Paralympian was born. London 2012 marked Sam’s Paralympic debut, capturing a Bronze Medal in the Para-Cycling Team Sprint. Sam is now determined to return to the mountains that nearly took his life, and now has his eyes set on the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi as a member of the Alpine and Nordic Ski Teams.

What got you started in your sport?

I was introduced to cycling as most of us were around the age of five. My early love for cycling was one deeply rooted in exploration via bike; riding through backwoods down to the river. The more I rode the faster I became. I was introduced to competitive cycling for the first time in college. It was racing where my passion for cycling matured.

As for skiing, growing up in Montana one either learns to embrace winter at a young age or leave. My mother moved to Montana to pursue her love for skiing, so skiing is in my blood. Shortly after I was walking my parents were attaching skis to my feet and not long after I was racing my way to the bottom of any hill. As I grew up, skiing became not only sport but an expression of who I was while I explored the world of extreme skiing. Later as my cycling pursuit grew, I would nordic ski throughout the cold winter months as cross training for the upcoming cycling season.

Cycling and skiing are more than what I do. They are part of who I am.

What advice would you give to students about following their passion/their dreams?

Do not be afraid to break the mold, blaze a new trail, live life without limitations. Often times I find that individuals have suppressed their dreams or given up on passions because they do not fit some predetermined characteristics. Life is too short to live simply by what is dictated to you; be willing to explore outside the box. Consider the effect of not pursuing your dreams and what that will have on your ability to live up to your full potential in all aspects of life. Which life would you rather live: one inspired by endless possibilities or one predetermined by the world around you?

How do you give back?

I am a strong believer in mentoring and jump at every chance I have to work with individuals. Currently, I am active in the Wounded Warrior project mentoring returning soldiers. In similar fashion I work closely with the development of emerging athletes across the country to assist them in their dreams to be Paraylmpic Champions.

While currently in its infancy, several of my teammates and I are working to establish an outreach to impoverished communities specifically connecting with the physically disabled through sports and recreation. Our desire is that by introducing movement and the competitive element of sport we can help inspire them to see their true potential. Similarly, I speak regularly to schools across the country encouraging children to embrace life and it challenges so that they may live fully alive.


Learn more

  • Follow Sam on Twitter:


See Sam's story in this Discovery Channel documentary.

View the video