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Utah Paralympian Tyler Burdick's passion for snowboarding helped him find a new way to represent his country

Published: Wednesday, March 5 2014 10:15 p.m. MST

Utah Paralympian Tyler Burdick

Courtesy of Joe Kusumoto

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of profiles of Utah athletes competing in the 2014 Paralympic Games.

SALT LAKE CITY — The blast knocked the breath out of Tyler Burdick and created a cloud of sand so thick, he couldn’t see anything.

“I couldn’t see 6 inches in front of my face,” said Burdick. “I didn’t know I was hurt. Everyone else was unconscious.”

He tried to get to his feet, but his legs just collapsed. That’s when he knew, “This is bad.”

A massive roadside bomb stole the Cyprus High graduate’s dream of becoming a Navy SEAL. But his passion for the outdoors, for sports and for competition would help him find a way to represent his country in a way he never dreamed possible — especially not in the months after he was injured.

“To represent my country, it’s a huge honor,” he said of competing for the U.S. Paralympic snowboard team in Sochi next week. “I was definitely, in my mind, going to make a career out of the Navy. When it came to an end, I was really at a loss. There was an emptiness inside of me. When I got into snowboard cross last year, and now the Paralympics, to be able to represent my country, it’s like having that feeling again.”

The son of an emergency room doctor, Burdick was born in Salt Lake City but moved around a lot. He even went to boarding school in Salsbury, Austria, until his senior year, when he returned to Utah and graduated from Cyprus. Through all of his travels, he made his way to ski slopes, usually back home in Utah, each winter.

“I love snowboarding,” he said. “The freedom of going fast, sideways down the mountain is awesome.”

He attended the University of Utah, but his “passion for the hill” exceeded his commitment to college, and he eventually dropped out. He “did the ski-bum thing” for four or five years, and then, at age 25, he realized he wanted more than fresh powder.

"I wanted some direction and discipline in my life,” he said. “I realized I probably should have stayed in school. I’d blown my opportunities to have school paid for.”

He decided to enlist in the Navy to become a combat medic for the Marine Corps. It was a career inspired by his grandfather’s military service (Vietnam) and his father’s career as an emergency room doctor.

“My ultimate goal was to become a Navy SEAL,” he said. “Just before I got blown up in Afghanistan, I submitted a request to go to Navy SEAL training.”

The 32-year-old loved everything about his military service.

“I felt like I found my direction in life,” he said.

While Navy bootcamp was “pretty easy,” he got the experience he craved when he went through battlefield medical training.

His first deployment was an eight-month stint in Fallujah, Iraq. In 2009, he volunteered for an extra deployment as another unit needed medics.

“They’d all been killed or injured, and they needed replacements in Afghanistan, the Helmand Province,” he said. “My battalion didn’t have a deployment schedule. I trained to go save lives, go save Marines. That’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to stay back in the states and train.”

That assignment lasted three months.

“I was home for about three weeks when my original battalion was sent to southern Afghanistan, the same area in January 2010,” he said. “I was really happy to be going back.”

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