Ultimately, Olson’s goal for Carter and the athletes he coaches isn’t winning medals but becoming better people.
USA Paralympic alpine skier Tyler Carter appreciates that his coach Scott Olson encourages and pushes him. But the lengths to which the coach has gone to support Tyler included a late-night handyman session that tapped the ingenuity instilled in Olson growing up on a soybean farm in Jeffers, Minnesota.
Five years ago, on the eve of an important qualifying race in Winter Park, Colorado, Carter panicked when a plastic part of his prosthetic right leg snapped off.
“I didn’t have time to get an extra (prosthetic leg) and there was nothing that I could have done,” Carter says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! What am I going to do?’ ”
One of Carter’s greatest strengths is his discipline and work ethic, Olson says. He faithfully does all of his breathing and training exercises, and maintains a strict diet and sleeping habits.
“Everything is calculated with him,” Olson says.
So the prospect of throwing the proverbial wrench in Carter’s routine could be disastrous, which is why Olson sprung into action. He promised Carter he’d fix the broken leg and directed him to go to his room and get some rest. Olson then headed to the nearest hardware store and conjured up the lessons of his youth.
“Growing up on a farm, if it broke, you had to fix it,” Olson says. “You didn’t have time to go into town and get something fixed.”
Over five hours, Olson drilled holes, and jury-rigged screws, clamps and even some epoxy to the prosthetic leg.
“This will work,” Olson recalls telling Carter the next morning. “I guarantee it.”
Carter was stunned.
"It wasn't pretty,” he says, “but it did the job until I could get a replacement. I will never forget that.”
Olson’s father worked for Arctic Cat, the snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle company, and the family had a farm that produced soybeans and corn. He started coaching at a high school, and he also coached with the Special Olympics and the Courage Center in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Then, he relocated to Colorado, where he coaches the alpine ski team at the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
Olson doesn’t take a one-size-fits all approach to coaching, particularly since he works with athletes from around the world.
“It has to be individualized for each person,” he says. “You have to be able to look for what (the athlete is) trying to get out of their experience, and coach to that.”
That was easy with Carter. Born without a right fibula, he had his leg amputated below his right knee. He was an active boy, skateboarding and playing tennis. But he fell in love with skiing at the age of 8. He was a spectator at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games, and he dreamed of becoming a Paralympian.
Olson helped make that a reality, with Carter competing at the 2014 and 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
Though supportive, Olson always challenges Carter to grow and mature, in sport and life.
“There are always goals to work towards, things to accomplish,” Carter says. “ ‘Never stop trying to achieve more.’ That's what my coach tells me.”
They also work on Carter’s speaking and fundraising skills, so he can continue to fund his Paralympic dreams.
Carter can appreciate Olson more because he’s endured negative coaching experiences. What bothered him most were coaches who said one thing… then did another.
That affected his respect for them, which ultimately impacted his ability to connect with them.
“Negative coaches can turn youth off from sports,” Carter says. “They can take away the fun and excitement. Encouragement is one of the most important things for youth in sports and a bad coach will ruin that.”
Carter says youth coaches should add more games to practices, and focus on sportsmanship and fair play.
“If it doesn’t feel like work, youth athletes will be more interested in doing it!” Carter says.
Olson and Carter have fun training and hanging out, and the coach is a willing sounding board on whatever topic the Paralympian wants to talk about. Because, ultimately, Olson’s goal for Carter and the athletes he coaches isn’t winning medals but becoming better people.
“He is there to help me achieve,” Cater says, “but, at the end of the day, he wants me to be a good person, to be successful in life outside of sport. I think that right there sums up a great coach.”