Career

Paralympic flag bearer Adam Hall’s love knows no bounds

Adam's made-for-Hollywood story is matched only by that of his wife Elitsa.

Few young married couples have experienced as much triumph and tragedy in their lives as Adam and Elitsa Hall.

A champion skier, Adam struck gold at the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver eight years ago, but just weeks later, he was devastated by the sudden death of his dear mum. In March, he’ll be the flag bearer for the New Zealand Paralympic team in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

His is a made-for-Hollywood story matched only by that of his wife Elitsa, 29, who was born in Bulgaria with several congenital defects, before being adopted by a US couple and later also becoming a Paralympic skier.

Raised on a dairy farm in Outram, Dunedin, Adam was born with spina bifida – an incomplete development of the spinal cord – but he didn’t let his disability act as an excuse.

“I was never treated differently to anyone else,” insists the 30-year-old.

“I grew up in a good family environment, with strong core values and a good work ethic. Any obstacles or values we faced, we always worked our way through them.”

At six, he started skiing at the Cardrona Alpine Resort, near Wanaka, although Adam says he was initially “hopeless” on skis.

He turned to snowboarding, which gave him the sense of “freedom and independence” he craved. Hooked by his new passion, by age nine, Adam was determined to one day compete at the Paralympics, but with snowboarding not part of the Games schedule, he went back to skiing in 2004.

Competing with special poles to keep his balance and with his skis connected by a rope to hold his feet parallel, he quickly took to the sport second time around.

On a training camp in Winter Park, Colorado, in the count-down to the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy, Adam met Elitsa on a chairlift and the pair felt an instant attraction.

Elitsa had been born with a club foot, something she blames on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and which later led to the amputation of her right leg.

Raised in an orphanage until age five, she was introduced to life on the piste by her adoptive family in the Idaho ski resort of Sun Valley.

Adam carrying the New Zealand flag at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver

“The first thing I noticed about Adam was his big blue eyes,” explains Elitsa, who was just 15 at the time yet confidently asked 16-year-old Adam out on a date.

Laughing, he recalls, “She picked me up in a teammate’s car, was caked in make-up and took me out for sushi.”

Afterwards, the pair went their separate ways to focus on training for the Paralympics.

But by the next Games in Vancouver, they were an item – and Adam was a favourite for a medal.

In the first of his two runs in the standing slalom event – where competitors ski through a series of gates – he opened up a healthy two-second lead on his opponents.

Adam and his mother.

But on the second run, he lost his balance and fell – only to dramatically recover and strike gold!

Adam describes it as a “special moment” and says, “I remember throwing the flowers they gave me into the crowd and my mum catching them, which was pretty cool.”

Sadly, however, just over a month later, his mother Gayle – Adam’s “number-one supporter” – died in a tragic car accident just 400m from the family home.

“It was a real shock,” tells Adam.

“She was a special, very determined woman who would always fight your corner. I was lucky to have my family witness my gold medal.”

Last May, Adam – who was fourth at the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 – married Elitsa at Glenfalloch Gardens on the Otago Peninsula.

The couple admit that married life hasn’t always been easy, due to their driven, strong-willed personalities.

“We are both stubborn and very competitive at whatever we do,” explains Adam. “But Elitsa is also a passionate, caring person, who has had a very good upbringing, like me. I’m lucky to have her.”

His wife, who retired from competitive skiing in 2010, adds, “We definitely push each other, but over time, we have grown as a couple. Now I’m here to support Adam on his journey, while also helping inspire young athletes coming through.”

Dividing his time between Cardrona and Colorado, Adam is now living through his 27th straight winter, which he admits is tough. He’s hoping the sacrifice will be worth it, though, when he lines up for four separate events in South Korea, in his fourth Paralympic Games.

Smiling, Adam says, “I have four medal opportunities and I feel, for sure, like I’m a medal contender.”

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