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Local Paralympian prepares for world-class games

Published On: Feb 21 2014 04:41:53 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 20 2014 11:00:00 PM CST

Grundy, Virginia is about as far away from snow skiing as you can get, but a native son will be competing in the Winter Paralympics in Sochi in a couple of weeks.

BRISTOL, Va. -

The Winter Olympics draws to a close this weekend in Sochi, Russia, only to gear up again in a couple of weeks for the Paralympic Games.

In this region, we have a local hero to cheer on -- Heath Calhoun from Grundy, Virginia. He's been featured in commercials all during the Olympic coverage, but you may have not known who he is and his story. We sat down with Calhoun's parents to find out more about this inspirational Olympic skier.

You may not recognize Heath Calhoun from his Gundy High School senior picture from 1997; Heath now sports a full beard. You'll see him on several commercials, on boxes of Corn Flakes, and just about anywhere these days as he inspires millions preparing for the Paralympic Games in a couple of weeks.

He lost both legs in Iraq in 2003 serving in the 101st Airborne Division as a staff sergeant. "He grew up wanting to be in the Army. He found my old Army stuff. He'd put on my old shirts, hats, and wear my dog tags," his father Kermit says.

That led him to join the Airborne division and serve in Iraq, where a rocket-powered grenade changed his life. "I was here alone, 6 o'clock in the morning, and he called me himself. He wouldn't let [the doctors] call, he called himself," his mother said.

He called with good and bad news -- the bad news was his legs would have to be amputated; the good news was that he was coming home.

Calhoun returned to a hero's welcome in his hometown, but his life would be forever changed when he became involved in the Wounded Warriors program. "They liked what they saw in him and he liked what he saw in them. He turned out to be a poster boy for them," his dad said.

That program led him to learning to ski. "When he got on the skis, he loved it. He said it gave him back his freedom," his mother said.

It also sparked the old competitive spirit that led him to carrying the American flag in the Vancouver Paralympic Games in 2010. Now he's back and preparing for Sochi to compete in the Alpine skiing events, and we're all seeing those commercials each night during Olympic coverage. "We yell out, 'There he is! There he is!' We did that last night both about the same time," Kermit said.

Holston High School in Damascus is also watching and covering his story as we are. "His story of overcoming his obstacles, no matter what they were, such as losing his legs and going to succeed no matter what, it's impressive. It's inspired all of Holston," senior Tyler Segraves said.

In fact, it's inspired a whole nation, especially young people in this region.