Waymart native Mike Minor basks in the glow of Paralympics gold
In this age of controversy and chaos, it's become increasingly difficult to find worthy role models for our children.
Sadly, it seems as though our hopes are dashed at least once a week by hypocritical politicians and professional athletes being exposed as cheats.
However, if it's a real life superhero you seek, look no further than the little town of Waymart right here in Wayne County.
Mike Minor, a Western Wayne graduate born without his right forearm, just recently took the sports world by storm with an electrifying performance at the 2018 Paralympics.
The 27-year-old athlete traveled to PyeongChang, South Korea, to compete in snowboarding. There, with millions of eyes upon him, Mike did what many thought impossible: He captured a gold medal.
Minor suffered a heartbreaking fall in his first event and had to settle for bronze. However, he shrugged off that disappointment and rocketed to gold in his second and final event.
“It still doesn't seem real,” Mike said via cell phone from his home in Colorado. “Just last night I was lying in my bedroom in the dark holding my gold medal. It was 3:30 in the morning and I was thinking: Did I really do that? Did that actually happen?
“It's pretty amazing. It's a dream come true.”
The road to South Korea began right here in NEPA.
A precocious, courageous child, Mike was playing soccer at age four and wrestling at six. Even more incredibly, he was on skis by his second birthday and snowboarding at seven.
“I always knew that Mike was meant to do something special,” said his Mom, Kim. “From the time he could walk, he was all over the place. He was climbing an apple tree in our yard, running around with a soccer ball and diving into huge piles of leaves.
“Mike was a very active child to say the least.”
Minor attended Western Wayne High School, graduating in 2008. He played soccer, wrestled and was a good student.
“Mike loved school,” Kim said. “He had a little bit of trouble paying attention at times, but he was an intelligent kid. He didn't have to study much.”
While Minor did well in school-sponsored sports, he gradually became obsessed with outdoor athletics: skateboarding in the summer, skiing and snow boarding in the winter.
Two of Kim's fondest memories of his childhood revolve around these sports.
“Mike and his Dad constructed this homemade halfpipe on wheels,” she said with a laugh.
“They spent hours and hours working on it. Then, they used it during a parade. Mike skateboarded up and down while his Dad drove the truck and towed it all through Waymart. It was really cool.”
Mike's ingenuity also found expression during the winter. He was always looking for challenges, both mental and physical.
“One time, he found an old wooden ladder,” Kim recalled. “He propped it up somehow and then used his Dad's excavator to cover it with snow so he could snowboard and do jumps.
“I always worried about him, because that's what you do as a Mom. But, I never tried to slow him down, either.”
***Living His Dream
Following graduation, Mike moved to Colorado to pursue his dreams.
“Being a competitive, professional snowboarder is always what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I've been dreaming about this since I first saw other kids snowboarding back home.”
Mike's exposure to skiing and snowboarding began at an early age and continued through adolescence. He cut his teeth at Mount Tone and Tanglwood, then starting honing his skills as en employee at Elk Mountain.
“I loved it there,” he said. “I have so many great memories of Elk.”
By the time he arrived on the scene in Colorado, Mike was fully focused. He settled in the town of Frisco and locked up a job as a lift attendant at Copper Mtn.
Minor ramped up his training, using every spare moment of free time to practice. It wasn't long before all that work paid off and he was invited to compete with the Adaptive Action Sports team.
“That's when things really started to take off,” Mike said.
In early winter 2015, Mike turned pro and made his international debut at an event in the Netherlands. There, he finished first in the banked slalom and never looked back.
Mike posted another win in the same event at Big White, British Columbia, Canada in February 2016. A month later, he added a first World Cup cross victory in Les Angles, France.
Following a second-place finish in banked slalom at the 2016 World Cup, held at Trentino, Italy, Mike moved into first place in the overall rankings.
Minor was named Athlete of the Month for November 2016 by the United States Olympic Committee, an important early step in securing a spot on the US Paralympic Team.
“One of the coolest things has been traveling all over the world to do something that I love,” said Mike, who has fallen in love with Italy.
“I've been to 15 countries in the last three years, but my heart is in Italy. I just love it there.”
***On the Dais
The culmination of all these travels came in South Korea March 9-18.
There, on the world's biggest stage at Pyeong Chang, Minor captured a bronze medal in Men's Snowboard Cross and gold in Men's Banked Slalom.
Mike sealed the deal on gold with his third and final run, crossing the finish line in 50.77. That time was more than a second faster than Austrian Patrick Mayrhofer (51.96).
“I'm so proud of him,” Kim said, a catch in her throat. “This has always been his dream and I'm so lucky to have been there to see him do it.”
In fact, Kim almost wasn't there to see her son accept his gold medal. Just getting to South Korea from Waymart was a daunting task logistically and financially. However, the community in general and her church in particular rallied together to make sure it happened.
“I can't thank them enough,” she said. “We have such an incredible support system. They're all so amazing.”
For his part, Minor is overwhelmed with the unstinting support he's received from family and friends.
“I couldn't have done any of this without them,” he said. “My parents, my sister, my coaches, all my friends … they've been with me every step of the way.”
Mike hopes to return home at some point this summer. Although his training and work schedules remain intense, folks in his hometown are eager to see him and honor him.
Preliminary work is already underway for a parade in Mike's honor … and this time, he and his Dad won't be working into the wee hours on a mobile halfpipe.
He doesn't take his newfound identity as a role model lightly and offers these words of wisdom to youngsters back here in Wayne County:
“If I had to give anyone advice, I'd say: Don't sell yourself short. Believe in yourself. Work hard and never lose focus on your dreams.”
Mike is the son of Mike & Kim Minor, Waymart. He has one sister, Mallory.