Going for gold
20-year-old St. Charles native beats the odd and brings home a gold medal from the 2018 Paralympics in South Korea
By Brett Auten
Inspiring is the tip of the iceberg when you get to know Noah Elliott.
The 20-year-old St. Charles native packed a lifetime of emotions, complications, accomplishments, and jubilation’s in a four-year window. Elliott’s journey from the hospital bed to atop the Paralympic medal stand and eventually to the White House (with a Hersey bar commercial along the way) has left the St. Charles High School grad practically shaking his head in disbelief.
At the 2018 Paralympics, Elliott medaled in both of the men’s snowboarding events, grabbing bronze cross and gold in the men’s banked slalom. But to get to that point, it took a scare of a lifetime and then steely determination.
Elliott was 16-years-old and, since the age of seven, obsessed with skateboarding; skating every day and everywhere when his life came crashing in with a diagnosis of osteosarcoma, a common type of bone cancer found in teens and children.
“They said, you start chemotherapy on Wednesday. I found out on a Friday,” Elliott said. “They told me to go home and pack my bags, get ready you are going to be living in-patient. It was out of the blue. It was all like, bam, bam, bam.”
Elliott spent the next 11 months in the hospital. His first operation was a total knee replacement and replacing his tibia with a titanium rod insert. His doctors informed that due to restricted mobility it was a strong possibility that he would never skateboard again.
“I started not to feel like myself anymore because I couldn’t skateboard,” he said. “I was stuck inside, and everything was happening so quickly I didn’t have time to adjust. I lost a part of myself. I thought, well maybe I’ll just cruise. I won’t be doing the tricks, but at least I could cruise and feel the breeze. I always tried to think happy, stay positive and be like, I’ll figure it out.”
During his time at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Elliott watched the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Paralympics when snowboarding debuted in the Paralympic Games. It was during the Paralympic games when he saw three Americans sweep the medals and a seed was planted.
Though he had zero snowboarding experience and nary the financial means to begin training out of state, Elliott was committed.
He was able to take a trip to Colorado for a camp for children with cancer. There he met another adaptive athlete who had same disease that he did.
“She was snowboarding with a prosthetic,” he said. “She had the same cancer as I did and she beat it and I saw in person what I had seen on TV, and that is when it clicked for me.”
Once back from Colorado, Elliott came to grips with having a second, more permanent, surgery as the first had failed to squelch the throbbing pain and the decision was made to amputate his leg just above the knee. After months of rehabilitation and learning how to use his new prosthetic leg, he was off to Park City, Utah to learn how snowboard thanks to a successful GoFundMe campaign (to pay for a prosthetic specifically for snowboarding) and saving a summer’s worth of money from washing dishes.
“I had this dream, and it was so far out, but I was reaching for it,” Elliott said. “I packed my bags, loaded up a U-Haul and drove and showed up with a hope to do well. The first month was really trial and error.”
Elliott was able to take his talent for skateboarding and transfer it to snowboarding. Day after day, he and his coaches would see the progress ramp up. So next on the to-do list was qualifying for the Paralympics. To do so, he had to make his international debut in New Zealand, which took even more fundraising, more saving, and thankfully, a $1,000 scholarship from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. He continued competing and succeeding in qualifiers in the Netherlands, Europe and Australia placing in every event he went to culminating in a roster spot for Team USA granted in late 2017.
What made Elliott’s story even more unique is that the bulk of his competitors have snowboarded for most of their lives while he had just picked up the sport and in 16 months was one of the best in the world.
“I think I’m the first street skater who went into it, at least from the Paralympic side,” Elliott said. “Technically, you could say I have been training from the age of seven to 16, and I just didn’t know it. But, anyone who tells you they have been successful alone isn’t successful. The only reason I have been able to do so well is because of the support team around me. The whole community from so many different places has supported me. We all have bad days and days where we don’t think we can do it. But you can take a look around and count your blessings and see all of those people supporting you, and they lift you up.”
Elliott shined on race days in South Korea for the 2018 Paralympics. He came through first with his bronze medal run, which sent his emotions sky high heading into the men’s banked slalom but he knew it best not to over-think the situation.
“I had to tone it back down and focus on what I was going to do that day,” he said. “This is my favorite competition because it’s like skateboarding. So I go out and I’m smiling ear to ear.”
In his first run, Elliott nailed the fastest time of the day up to that point and as the other competitors took their crack at toping it, on his fourth and final run Elliott bettered himself by a second-and-a-half and clinched the gold medal.
“When I came across the last bank, I heard this loud noise, and it was the crowd,” he said. “I crossed the finish line. I looked up and I felt this amazing feeling. I looked over and I was still in first and that’s when I realized I won a gold medal and from that moment on it’s just been insane.”
Since his time back home, Elliott has donated an autographed jersey from the event to St. Louis Children’s Hospital where it hangs to inspire others. Elliott has also become a requested public speaker, sharing his story anywhere from an elementary classroom to the boardrooms of white-collar firms. Elliott’s daughter Skylar, five, has been a constant source of inspiration throughout all of this along with his mother and stepfather Bud and Darla Ell.
The medals and the memories will always represent the hard work and sacrifice. Now he is sharing his story looking to inspire the next generation, spread awareness and grow his sport.
“If you have something you are reaching for, 110-percent go for it,” Elliott said. “Don’t let anything or anyone detour you because anything is possible and I am learning that more and more. There are tons of people out there who are living proof of that, so why not you be one.”
Cover-Gold1 CUTLINE: Photo courtesy Zach Kaczmarek Noah Elliott, a 20-year-old St. Charles native, medaled in both of the men’s snowboarding events, grabbing bronze cross and gold in the men’s banked slalom at the 2018 Paralympics.
Cover-Gold2 Photo courtesy Marvin Dillon Noah Elliott, a 20-year-old St. Charles native, medaled in both of the men’s snowboarding events, grabbing bronze cross and gold in the men’s banked slalom at the 2018 Paralympics.