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With gratitude like gold, Paralympian set for Beijing

"What an amazing way to wrap up World Cup finals!" Garrett Geros posted to Instagram last week. "Placed 3rd in my final 2 world cups on the season and am 2nd in the world in overall points in snowboard cross points and 2nd in overall points for the World Cup season!" Photo Instagram/@garrettgeros22

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. (BP) – The first section of a snowboard cross race is neither straight nor narrow. The path includes hills and valleys that athletes cannot avoid and, in fact, their skill in navigating them has a large bearing on winning and losing.

In essence, you learn to move with those obstacles. They can even propel you to the winners’ platform.

Waterboarding, like here on Lake Powell, Utah, has also been a lifelong passion for Geros. Instagram/@garrettgeros22

Garrett Geros has absorbed those lessons over the last three-and-a-half years in Copper Mountain, where training has led to his competing in snowboard cross at the Paralympic Games in Beijing next month. But like his fellow athletes know, there are also lessons that started much earlier.

Geros’ picture of winning and losing changed on June 2, 2016. He never made it to Cheeseburger Bobby’s in his hometown of Cartersville, Ga., to meet a friend. Instead, his truck ended up in a ditch and Geros ended up fighting for his life in the ICU at Grady Hospital in Atlanta.

The wreck took his left leg from the knee down and placed several pins and a titanium rod in his right one. Geros was active, wrestling and playing football for his high school and taking family trips wakeboarding on nearby Lake Allatoona or snowboarding in California and West Virginia. He was thankful to be alive, but still, no one could blame him for those moments when his focus drifted to what had been lost.

“After my accident I got closer to God,” he said. “But when I moved, I struggled. There aren’t a lot of [evangelical] churches out here, and I learned that if I was going to grow in my faith, I was going to have to take responsibility for it.”

Geros was saved at First Baptist Church in Woodstock and later attended First Baptist Cartersville. He started a daily prayer regimen, listening to Christian music and watching services from back home online.

It required discipline, but so did his road to Beijing. Geros moved to Copper Mountain in the summer of 2018 and began training with hopes of making the 2020 Tokyo Games (held the following year due to COVID-19). He thought he had realistic hopes for his first international event held that October.

“I got dead-last,” he said, laughing.

Garrett Geros finished last in his first international competition, but was recently named to the U.S. National Team for the Paralympics to be held next month in Beijing. Instagram/@garrettgeros22

His competitors’ experience far and away exceeded his. “They knew what they were doing,” he said. “They were a lot faster than I was and left me finishing 12 seconds behind the leader.

That’s a lot in snowboard cross. If it were possible to be lapped going down a mountain, it would almost be like that.

That was where the work really began. Geros had snowboarded his entire life, but occasional family trips to the mountains don’t get you ranked among the best in the world. Training, both on and off the snow, for up to six days a week does.

The effort paid off. A few months ago, he placed second and third in races in Germany. At this year’s world championships, he finished ninth in snowboard cross and 12th in banked slalom.

As Geros’ appreciation grew for the challenge of becoming an Olympian, so did his gratefulness toward God for where he was and the opportunities he’s been given.

His Instagram feed is not only a virtual tour of events in locales such as Finland, Sweden and Austria, but a constant testimony of thankfulness for the hills and the valleys. “I can do all things through Christ” in his bio is a reminder for where his strength lies.

“Right after my wreck I struggled with what all of this meant and what God was doing,” he admitted. “I hope I can talk to others one day about how things may be bad in the moment, but God has a plan like He reminds us in Jeremiah 29:11.”

People ask him, “If you could, would you stop yourself from getting in the truck that night?”

“No, I wouldn’t” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Frustrations still happen. In December, Geros was practicing a run and kept falling. His board, for whatever reason, kept slipping beneath him. “I was mad and wanted to go inside and just be done,” he said.

Then he took a moment and a breath. He found a bench on the course and scanned the mountains stretching the Finnish countryside, which this time of year is in an almost constant state of brilliant sunset.

“You know,” he thought, “things could be a lot worse.”

With a new sense of gratitude, he nailed his next few runs down the mountain.

“God gave me the ability to walk; the ability to snowboard,” said Geros. “He brought me from things that could have left me down to being somewhere that a lot of people dream to be. I’m so thankful for that.”

Geros leaves for Beijing Feb. 25. The Paralympic Games will begin on March 4 and can be viewed on NBC. Qualifiers for snowboard cross, Geros’ event, will occur on March 6 and finals on March 7.