Andrew Kurka — Paralympian, X Games competitor and Arctic Man veteran — added the title "world champion" to his resume Wednesday on the sunny slopes of Tarvisio, Italy.
Kurka, a sit-skier from Palmer, won the men's downhill race at the World Para Alpine Championships.
It's the first world championship for Kurka, a 2014 Paralympian and three-time participant at the World Championships. He won a bronze medal in the super-G at the 2015 World Championships.
"This win to me, it's a huge honor," Kurka told Alaska Dispatch News by email. "It's something I have been striving for, for years."
Making the victory all the sweeter are the setbacks and suffering he endured to get to the top his sport — "so many injuries," Kurka said, "from a broken femur and multiple broken backs and ankles (shattered) throughout my career."
Kurka blazed down the bottom part of the course in his gold-medal run.
He had the second-fastest time at the first interval — Japan's Akira Kano led by .21 second — and then crushed it the rest of the way.
He won with a time of 1 minute, 11.55 seconds, comfortably ahead of defending world champion Corey Peters of New Zealand (1:12.16) and Kano (1:13.77).
Kurka said the course was designed by his coach, Kevin Jardine.
"He always sets super fast dangerous courses, (w)hich suits my style of skiing," he said. "I have always been fearless so I approach the technical areas with (a) plan."
During training, he said, he tried different lines and strategies on the most difficult parts of the course to optimize his speed. On race day, he rode a fast monoski prepared by technician Chris Newey.
"I definitely tested my abilities," he said.
The victory continues a sizzling season for Kurka, who turns 25 on Friday.
At a World Cup speed series two weekends ago in Austria, he medaled in all three races, taking first place and second place in a pair of downhills and finishing third in the super-G.
He rode that momentum into Tarvisio, where he quickly positioned himself as a medal threat. He won Monday's training run and shared the win in Tuesday's training run with Kano.
Kurka was 13 years old when he suffered a spinal cord injury in an ATV accident. He has remained active in the years since, willing to give just about anything a try — bodybuilding, water-skiing, ultra-marathon handcycling, even the harrowing, high-speed Arctic Man ski-and-snowmachine race.
Sit-skiing is where he excels. A longtime member of the U.S. Paralympic team, he has been accident-prone in the years after his disabling accident. At the 2014 Sochi Paralympics in Russia, Kurka broke his back on the first day of training.
According to his biography at teamusa.org, he broke one bone a year for six straight seasons — a streak that ended last winter.
Kurka said he always believes he can win a big race, "but finally doing it when it matters … gives me a sense of honor for my state and country," he said.
"But most importantly (it) gives me hope for those I can inspire and hope to be an example to."