Athlete Feature: Dennis Connors

Dennis Connors: Paralympic Athlete & OAS Snowboarder

Relocating to Beaverton, Oregon from Utah with his wife over 8 years ago. Dennis has delved into the world of paralympic sports in an eager dive to pursue the activities he loves after suffering a stroke in 2020 that took him 9 months to learn to walk again in rehab. Read more of Dennis’s involvement with Veteran and adaptive programs, being an athlete with Team USA, below in an interview from February 2024.

Introduce yourself

My name is Dennis Connors, my family lives in Beaverton, Oregon but we ski here at Mt. Bachelor because we own a house in Sunriver and so we come over every weekend for my kids’ ski school. It’s easier to come here than it is to go to Mt. Hood because there’s less traffic – also we like being in the sun! 

Originally I’m from California, grew up in the Bay Area rock climbing, pretty much just rock climbing. I was a member of the USA climbing team as a teenager and then in 2003 I joined the military. I served 9 years in the Marine Corps and 3 combat tours in Iraq. Which is where I got injured, but didn’t know it. When I got out of the Marines in 2012 my wife and I moved to Utah so we could climb, ski, and snowboard. My wife’s a skier, I’m a snowboarder. Then in 2015 she got recruited by Nike. They made her an offer we couldn’t really refuse. So we’re like, let’s try it and we’ve been in Oregon for 8 years. 

When did you get injured?

So I suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries from blasts in combat. But didn’t know I just thought it was the job, coming and going really bad, bad concussions. I didn’t realize I was having neurological issues until 2016-17 and then it was really in 2018 when I was cycling with a veterans group, and they’re like, yeah, you ride your bike like a toddler and obviously got something going on. I went and got checked and the neurologist literally called me the next morning at like 8AM and he says “You had a stroke at some point, there’s a dead spot. Do you remember having a stroke?”. I reply “Nope”, he goes “Okay” and I asked if that was why I had really bad balance lately and he agreed that probably had something to do with it. 

So with that, it qualified me for paracycling and as fate would have it, right when COVID started I had a second stroke, like an actual full-blown stroke. It took 9 months rehab to be able to learn  to walk again, I couldn’t ride a bike anymore. Luckily I was already in adaptive sports so I started riding a trike. So yeah it was really March of 2020 when I had the second stroke, and my whole left side is paralyzed. It was months and months to get walking again and I had to sit in a harness and I was hellbent on doing the same sports still. 

What other sports do you do?

Currently I ride a trike for Team USA, I’m current world champion in the racing for trike and number one ranked paracyclist for Team USA. Last season I won three world cups in the world championships and second place in the other two, Pan-American games, gold and silver medalist. So yeah hopefully I make it to the games this year. 

Also I am in the USA climbing para-rocking climbing team, so Team USA again. I have a competition in two weeks that’ll be the national championships and I’ve gone to two prior; third place in my first one, second place in my second one so we’ll see how this goes. And now apparently snowboarding!

How long have you been taking lessons with OAS?

I have been participating with OAS for about three years now

Is that just winter then?

Yeah, I’m gone for most of the summer and I tell the OAS team that I’m around usually on the weekends still. So if you guys do a biking thing and I’m in the US, not racing, I’ll come down and ride with kids and stuff! 

But yeah I mean I tried snowboarding, skiing and snowboarding was my wife’s and I’s first date. So that was a part of our lives and I tried everything since my stroke to get back on snow. 

What is the different equipment you’ve tried using before being able to return to snowboarding?

Yeah, so because of my left side weakness and paralysis and my proprioception I tilt backwards moving easily. So we thought snowboarding was a no-go, if I’m on my heel side I’m just gonna SMACK right? So we just kind of wrote that off – there’s no way I’m going to snowboard. Alright so let me try four track ski, but then the ski was like doing its own thing and I couldn’t control it. I was crossing tips all the time, the ski would cross over itself and on the outriggers you can’t really lean on them as much and I walk with crutches so I need something I can lean on with my upper body. So then for two seasons I tried the mono-ski but then I can’t balance, balance is my biggest issue. 

So I’m like okay well I can’t mono-ski I’m going to nordic ski. Tried the sit-nordic ski and everybody’s who is a good at sit-nordic ski is an upper arms athlete, I’m a legs based athlete. So I was doing the sit-nordic ski and hauling around 100 lbs of legs and it was just miserable. Then finally last winter I was talking to Melodie and she was talking about seeing if we could get me back on a snowboard.

Then we found Josh and he said that I could lean on outriggers while snowboarding. So that’s how I got back into snowboarding, Josh gave me the lesson. 

So this is your first season snowboarding with outriggers then?

Yeah it’s just enough balance to keep me up, I probably put 30-40% of my bodyweight on those things and you can’t do that in any other set-up. We tried everything and then we finally found something that works.

How was your experience with working with OAS staff?

I’m trying to think back as it was like 2 years again, I didn’t mono-ski last year and I had pretty much the same instructors. Melodie played a huge part in it because she just was like “What else can we try?” and kept thinking. Then when we went back on the snowboard we took my left foot out of the equation, it’s strapped in it’s not gonna do anything and use the outrigger as your left foot and do everything with your right foot. 

How did you learn about OAS?

I’m pretty involved in adaptive sports nationally so I think I just looked up “Oregon Adaptive Sports” and we’ve been coming here and riding Bachelor before my stroke and never thought I’d have a need for it but that changed. 

What other adaptive programs do you participate in?

One is Achieve Tahoe, Semper Fi in America, Challenged Athletes Foundation. There was another one, that’s not an adaptive program but it’s a military program called Project Hero. But they support veterans so I’m in kind of this weird spot with them because I’m not able bodied so I’m not on their pro-cycling team and I’m not just like one of their veteran participants, kind of this middle ground where I’m like an elite paracyclist with them. So anytime they have an event and a vet wants to try paracycling I’m called in for that. 

You’re pretty involved with groups, especially veterans’ programs. Do you find that to be a good connection point with others?

It is a good connection point being where I’m at in athletics and sports and being on that higher level I get to see a lot. So I can answer a lot of questions for people as I’m going through it and learning it. Like right now I’m trying to learn about US para-snowboarding and there’s like no information and the team is in Europe right now now. I’m saying “Hey, I’m interested in this” and getting nowhere. I don’t know how to get classified, or if there’s a classification for me.

So for cycling, climbing I’m trying to be that person, especially if they are a veteran and interested. Because a lot of veterans are disabled but they won’t qualify for para because it’s very specific. I think the international paralympic committee has like 11 disabilities and permanent physical disabilities that qualify you for the paralympics. So you have hearing and balance problems, but it’s inner ear, well that doesn’t qualify because it’s not a brain issue. So I’m trying to be that sounding voice for others if they ever have questions. It’s easier to try and connect with each other than to email an organization and get a response back. 

What kind of progress have you noticed with OAS lessons?

I think it was all about getting the right instructor that knows the process, and Josh was that person. But yeah he was like, “You could do this with outriggers” and getting that person who understood. I was a snowboarder before and snowboard instructor so when he’s talking about techniques, it’s like OH these are techniques I taught. It’s not like he’s teaching me to snowboarding and use outriggers at the same time, so my progress has been super fast. 

So the skill acquisition was more on learning to use the outriggers then?

It was learning what I already knew how to do, but using the outriggers to do it. It wasn’t like I needed to learn how to toe side carve or whatever, I knew the process for that. I just needed to learn how to do it without falling. 

Is there anything you wish OAS did differently?

It seems like OAS is a very winter focused organization, I wish they had more summer stuff. Like adaptive rock climbing is really big and there’s some organizations around the country that are doing it and I’ve touched base with a few of those. There’s a guy up in Seattle who’s pretty into it named Dave Egan and he’s like tagging along with the Craggin’ Classic. He’s a rad guy, used to run an ice climbing event in Michigan and I worked with him at Black Diamond in Utah. 

Also on cycling, I just haven’t done any of the OAS cycling programs and I mean yeah, it’s Bend so mountain biking is what they’re gonna do but road biking too. There is a former super pro who also lives in Bend and is running a junior development team to gain more lower income people access to the sport of bike racing, try to get into like Tour De France. But adaptive cycling as big as it is, it’s smaller, but funneling to the bigger organizations like CAF and sharing like hey if you want to get your own equipment CAF has a grant process would be great.

What is your life outside of sports?

I have the wife and two kids. Both kids have been skiing before they could walk, like strapping skis on their feet and they’re trying to move them across the carpet. On the snow since about they were 2-years old. I’m a full-time stay-at-home dad and I enjoy cooking a lot, our kitchen is getting remodeled right now so it’s going to be epic in a few months. But yeah sports is my thing, I really like being outside. 

Learn More About Dennis

Find his socials or a way to connect through his website:

Team USA profile: