Q&A with U.S. Para cross-country skier and biathlete Aaron Pike

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When he was 13, Aaron Pike suffered a spinal cord injury in a hunting accident. While out with his father, another hunter fired his shotgun in the Pike’s direction and a pellet hit Aaron in the back. 

Pike found inspiration to try adapted sports after meeting former Navy SEAL, Carlos Moleda, who having experienced a similar injury himself, went on to win multiple Handcycle Division Ironman triathlons.  

At the University of Illinois-Champaign, Pike won two national championships in wheelchair basketball while also racing for the track and field team with the now seven-time Paralympic gold medalist Tatyana McFadden. 

In 2018, Pike will attept to land on a Paralympic podium for the first time after competing at the three previous Paralympic Games – summer and winter.

You were born in Minnesota but grew up as an Air Force brat?

Yeah, I am an Air Force brat. My dad was in the Air Force so I grew up my entire life in a military family. My parents both grew up in northern Minnesota. They went to the same high school and were essentially high school sweethearts. My dad joined the Air Force not long after high school and didn’t retire until after I went to college. 

I think that when you grow up in the military you become very versatile and learn to be open to making new friends and starting new chapters in your life. It also exposes you to a lot of people and new places. We moved every three years and I even graduated high school in Germany.

How influential have your parents been in your athletic pursuits?

My parents got me involved at a young age with sports and helped me get to practice and supply me with all the gear and equipment I needed in order to participate. After I got injured I was part of a wheelchair basketball team and a track team. The drive was a little over and hour each way and my parents took me to every practice.

What is your favorite workout or fitness trend?

I love long distance workouts whether that’s in wheelchair racing on the road in the summer or cross country skiing in the winter. I love going out for long two-hour-plus rides with a group of people pushing each other.

What’s the most grueling workout you’ve ever done?

I think one of the most grueling workouts I’ve done was on a SkiErg. Its a ski machine where you basically ski in place. The workout was 30 sets, one minute of all-out effort with 1 minute rest in between. I have done that workout two times before and both times it brought me to throwing up in the trash can between sets at some point in the workout.

Is there anything you do for training that could be considered out of the ordinary?

Well one workout I do is strap my legs to a rope which is attached to the ceiling, putting me essentially in a wheel barrel position. Then I run up and down stairs on my hands. I also do pull-ups hanging from ice climbing pick axes.

What was it about cross-country skiing or biathlon that caught your attention?

I didn’t start skiing until 2012, right after the summer Paralympic Games where I competed in track and field. For me it was the sheer joy of being on snow. I would get an awesome workout in and not even realize how hard I was working because I was just having a good time skiing up a mountain.

What’s something cool about either of your winter sports that people don’t get to see? 

I think in biathlon people can’t see what the athlete is seeing when they go from skiing to shooting targets as accurately and fast as possible. Your heart is racing so fast and with each deep breath your sights drop well below the target and then as you exhale your sights move back up to the target. Within one or two seconds you have to center you shot and pull the trigger. Sometimes your eyes are blurry and your hands and muscles are trembling. Through all of that you have to shoot a target the size of a dime.

Who are your biggest rivals? Is it a friendly or contentious relationship?

It’s funny, you know. You are always trying to win, but I feel like Nordic athletes really support one another. I feel like we all know what it has taken to get to the elite level in our sport and we all kind of support one another. When I have a good race I know many athletes will go out of their way to congratulate me and I try to do the same. Even Coaches from other teams will be cheering for you out on the course when you are having a good day or give you one of their own ski poles if you happen to break one.

What is your favorite perk of being an elite Paralympic athlete?

The travel and the swag.

Is there anything you never leave home without when traveling?

Well, I always travel with all of my own coffee, hand grinder and typically an Areopress to brew a good cup every morning.

How do you like to prepare on race day?

I like to stay loose and laugh with other people and make it feel like another regular day. I always like to preview the course and go over any technical areas at race pace to make sure I got it down.

Do you have any fears that might be considered irrational by some people?

I don’t like ostriches. I mean, they are living dinosaurs!

Is there anything about yourself that people would be amused to learn?

I swim at the level of a five year old. Ha ha! It is the one sport that I am completely terrible at.

Can we assume you have a crush on someone within your sport?

Yes! Oksana Masters. We have been dating for three years now and we actually met through skiing. She will also be going to 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang.

Are you a fan of Korea’s popular music, K-Pop? 

Ha ha! Well, it’s not high on my list, but I have a Korean athlete I train with in my summer sport and he loves to turn up his K-Pop in the locker room and shower room. Ha ha!

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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