Jeremy Wagner retired from duty as an Army Reservist after serving for a year in Iraq, heading back to Oahu, Hawaii. Then, in 2007, turning around a corner he’d taken hundreds of times, he lost control of his motorcycle. Jeremy was hit by an oncoming car, shattered a vertebra and lost the use of his legs.
“My injury was a major life-changing event,” he says. “It made me reevaluate and start focusing on things that I’d put off my entire life.”
One of the things he wanted to focus on was his Native Hawaiian heritage. He joined an outrigger canoe club – “outrigger canoeing is huge in Hawaii,” he says – once he could find one that included athletes with disabilities.
Practicing the traditional Hawaiian sport led to an interest in other adaptive sports, which is how Wagner was introduced to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. In 2010, while competing in the Games in Denver, Jeremy was spotted by a Paralympics biathlon coach, who encouraged him to try biathlon.
“There’s not a lot of snow where I come from!” he jokes, but he decided to try and moved to Denver, CO, to start training seriously.
In June 2012 Wagner became a member of the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Skiing Team. He competed at the international level for the first time the next year, at the Nordic Skiing World Championships in Sweden. “It takes a lot of training to make the team,” he says. “There is a huge pool of people who want to be a part of it.”
Jeremy will be making his Paralympic debut in Sochi. In an interview he compared it to going into “hostile territory” – the home of the defending Paralympic champion, Irek Zaripov, who won two golds and a silver in cross-country and two golds in biathlon in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“What greater stories than go into hostile territory, into the home of the defending Paralympic champion, and snatch that gold away from him? And I’d finally get to hear the American anthem, instead of the Russian one. It’s gonna be awesome.”
Before he was injured, Jeremy was a welder, and he still loves to work with his hands. He’s considered becoming a shop teacher, and he said he changed the front bearings on his vehicle this year, “just to say that I did it.”
Jeremy also may be the only member of Team USA who carries a ukelele with him. He’s been playing for about two years, learning traditional tunes and also making up his own. And he keeps connected to his islands by rooting for the Rainbow Wahine, the sports team of the University of Hawaii.
Photo courtesy of NBC Sports.