VANCOUVER, B.C.— After Mark Bathum left the Mission Ridge Ski Team in 1978, he nearly gave up skiing altogether. But now, 32 years later, he is getting ready to compete as an Paralympian.
“When I left Wenatchee, I really didn’t pick up my skis for a long time,” Bathum said. “I was frustrated over not making my goals of making the U.S. Ski Team and making the Olympics as an able-bodied person.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but part of the reason for his limited success at Mission Ridge was a degenerative eye disease. The condition — retinitis-pigmentos — was diagnosed in 1986. It greatly reduces peripheral vision.
Today, he’s readying himself to compete in the visually impaired classification at the Paralympics next month in Vancouver, B.C.
“Once I was diagnosed I knew some day I would qualify for disabled skiing,” Bathum said. “I qualified four or eight years ago, but I didn’t want to be that open about my condition, my disability. I decided two years ago to do it now instead of when I’m 55.”
Bathum — who works for the Cobalt Group, a company he said is best known for hosting auto dealers’ Web sites and online marketing — lives in Seattle, which was also “home” while he was skiing for Mission Ridge.
“Right now, I’m reliving my youth,” he said. “I truly am.”
Left skiing behind
Bathum spent three years on the Mission Ridge Ski Team, but only enjoyed limited success after his first season.
“In my first year of racing I had a lot of success, but in my final two years I would train very well and be competitive with some of the kids on the ‘B’ and ‘C’ (U.S. Ski) Teams, but when I raced I wasn’t as competitive,” he said.
After barely touching his skis for 15 years after leaving Mission Ridge, Bathum started to ski casually again with friends. Then five or six years ago, he got a little more serious.
“I was living in Detroit,” Bathum said. “I started to go up to these 300-foot tall landfills.”
While the man-made ski hills were nothing like the peaks he’d skied at Mission Ridge, they were enough to get the competitive juices flowing again. And now, at age 51, Bathum is less than a month away from competing in the Paralympic Games in Vancouver.
Bathum’s first race is March 13 and his last is March 21. And even though he’s considerably older than most of the athletes he’ll be competing against, Bathum said he likes his chances to medal.
“Even though some of my competitors are half my age, I’ve got a good chance at gold in the downhill and the podium in the slalom, super-G and combined,” he said.
Follows a guide
There are three categories of racing, based on how limited the competitor’s field of vision is.
“There’s a classification for those who are totally blind — they wear blackout goggles,” Bathum said. “The mid-level, I’m not sure what it’s called, some people with my disease can see 5 degrees off center.
“The least-restricted category is 20 degrees peripheral vision, and that’s the category I’m in.”
When Bathum competes, he follows a guide down the course.
“Guides are very important, for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Visually impaired racers subconsciously imitate what the guide is doing, so if the guide makes good turns, I have better form, and if they make an error I tend to do the exact same thing.
“Also, the better your guide the faster they can go, and if they can ski well within their comfort zone, they can look back over their shoulder periodically and gauge the distance. If I get into trouble, they can look back and adjust their speed.”
Corey Voegele: 661-5223