Team USA’s Noah Elliott hoping to use his experience to inspire others
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Noah Elliott’s positive attitude, hard work and determination helped turn his dream of being a prize-winning Paralympic snowboarder into a reality, and now that he is back in St. Louis, he’s hoping to use his experience to inspire others.
Last month, the 20-year-old stepson of Cement Masons Local 527 member Bud Ell won two snowboarding medals for Team USA in the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Elliott, a first-time Paralympian, took gold in the men’s SB-LL1 banked slalom competition and bronze in the men’s snowboard-cross in the LL1 classification.
Last week, he returned to his hometown with plans to launch a career as a professional speaker for students at elementary and high schools and to donate a signed pair of racing bibs to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, a place he called home for quite some time after being diagnosed in 2013 with osteosarcoma, the most common bone cancer affecting children and young adults.
“I’m hoping to give others a way to find inspiration and help them push toward their dreams,” Elliott said. “With the support of family and friends, a positive attitude, hard work and determination, you can achieve anything.”
UNION HEALTH INSURANCE WAS CRUCIAL FOR FAMILY
Elliott, an avid skateboarder since he was seven years old, began experiencing pain in his left knee while performing tricks on his skateboard. After his diagnosis in July 2013, he underwent three different kinds of chemotherapy.
It was a rough time for the family: Elliott’s father Bud was in the middle of having surgery on both his shoulders leading to a year off work, and his mother, Darla, had to quit her job because an adult had to be present at the hospital while he was undergoing treatment.
“Having union health insurance was crucial in getting us through that period,” Bud Ell said. “I couldn’t even feed myself and Noah was in the hospital for seven to 10 days at a time. The insurance company assigned us a counselor who was an angel in providing us with the means and connections to make it through.”
In 2014, Elliott underwent a limb reconstruction surgery in which doctors rebuilt his knee and replaced his tibia with a titanium rod. The same year, he attended a kids’ camp for cancer and met fellow snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, who won the gold medal in women’s snowboard-cross in this year’s Paralympics.
Meeting Huckaby piqued Elliott’s interest in competitive snowboarding. He watched the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics from a hospital bed and was in awe seeing the athletes compete. He said that’s what inspired him to begin pursuing the sport.
However, a year after the surgery, Elliott was still in pain. His body was rejecting the metal. Doctors gave him 10 days to decide whether to amputate the leg above the knee.
“We went to church and prayed really hard,” Bud Ell said. “That’s when Noah made the decision to amputate. He said, ‘I can’t do anything with my leg now, but with a prosthetic, I could follow my dreams.’”
Through it all, Bud Ell’s union health insurance was there to help the family.
Elliott had the leg amputated in January 2015. In November 2016, he moved to Park City, Utah and began training for competitive snowboarding at the National Ability Center. He made his international debut in 2017 in New Zealand, which marked the start of the season, and earned enough medals to qualify for this year’s Winter Paralympics.
“I remember him sitting in the hospital watching the 2014 games and saying, “I’m going to do that,’” Bud Ell said. “As a parent I said, ‘Son maybe you should consider another job that’s more stable.’ But when I saw him sail down that hill and take gold, I realized that IS his job.”
Ell said the family has received overwhelming support for his son from family, friends, his union family at Cement Masons Local 527 and his co-workers at signatory contractor Superior Waterproofing & Restoration.
“It’s love and support that got me where I am today, and I’m ready to give that love and support back to others to inspire them to pursue their dreams,” Elliott said.