Steamboat Springs Nikko Landeros is a two-time gold medalist and a member of the U.S. Sled Hockey team in the last two Paralympics Games.
That all seemed nearly impossible for Landeros the first time he set eyes on Bald Eagle Lake, however. He’s come a long way from the teenager who first came to the shores of the area lake for the Behind the ‘Boat camp just about six months after a 2007 car crash that left he and friend Tyler Carron without their legs.
Talking next to Bald Eagle Lake in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday, in town with the Behind the ‘Boat Adaptive Water Sports Camp, he had stories to tell of glory in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010 and of playing in Sochi, Russia, in an arena packed with frothing Russian fans cheering for the home team in the 2014 gold medal final.
Landeros and his teammates won that game, 1-0.
“It’s been going good,” he said with a wry grin. “We’ve been winning some gold medals recently.”
The Landeros and Carron attended the camp for several years after their injury, and riding in the boat during the 2009 camp, Landeros spoke about his high hopes after he recently had been named to the sled hockey team.
On Tuesday, Landeros was back, one of 16 campers enjoying a sunny, fun day on the perfect waters of Bald Eagle Lake.
The Behind the ‘Boat camp returned this week for its ninth year in Steamboat Springs. It was one of the first Craig Kennedy and Andy Kennedy helped put on with Adaptive Adventures, and the event, put on with Adaptive Adventures and Steamboat Springs Adaptive Recreational Sports, still is going strong.
Monday and Tuesday featured long hours under the summer sun, riding behind ski and wakeboard boats loaned for the event, and on a private ski lake, the time there also a donation from Ed MacArthur.
During their trip, the campers dined on donated food and they stayed in donated condos, enjoying yet again an outpouring of support from Steamboat Springs.
The visitors were a mix of adults and youths dealing with disabilities. Some were cognitive and others physical.
Some were beginners to the sport.
Steamboat Springs’ James Dickson popped up out of the water on two skis and made laps around the lake. Back in the boat, he beamed and proclaimed, “It worked!” as he flexed his muscles.
Quadriplegic Dave Passudetti swung behind the boat on a wakeboard.
“Super Dave,” Adaptive Adventures’ Matt Feeney said. “He does things most quadriplegics don’t even dream of doing.”
Others seemed to have this skiing and wakeboarding thing down even better.
The trips to Bald Eagle Lake were key to Landeros learning to wakeboard after his injury.
“I had a blast coming up here,” he said, recalling those first trips. “This is how I started sports. The first time was like six months after I got hurt. That was the first thing I ever did disabled.”
On Tuesday, he showed how long ago that was. In the years since, he’s established himself as a defensemen on the sled hockey team and sung the national anthem with a gold medal around his neck.
He plans to compete for at least one more and potentially several more Paralympic Games in sled hockey, but he has sports ambition beyond that, too. He said he’s like to try ski racing, and maybe even a switch to summer sports for kayaking.
On Tuesday, he flew, whipping back and forth behind the boat on a wakeboard and soaring high, from wake to wake. Campers and volunteers "ohhed" and "ahhed" and offered congratulations when he was back on land.
The healing power of sports is no longer new to him, not by a long shot. But he certainly seemed to enjoy an afternoon back where it started, and Monday and Tuesday he had plenty of company.
“Anyone can water ski,” Craig Kennedy said. “It’s a private lake. It’s amazing. It’s a great location and it’s just a lot of fun.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9