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How Patriots fandom inspired alpine skier Connor Hogan to achieve Paralympic dreams

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months old, the 24-year-old thinks Foxboro could use a gold medal to go with New England's six Super Bowl trophies.

Connor Hogan.PDC

Growing up in Foxboro was a formative experience for Paralympic alpine skier Connor Hogan.

An inevitable fan of the New England Patriots, the 24-year-old got to watch his local NFL team win six Super Bowl championships growing up. Like many kids in his hometown, seeing that success inspired him to want to play football himself.

But having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months old, youth football season always came with a reminder that he wasn't like those other kids.

"It was always one of those things where it was kind of just okay, I'm different," Hogan said. "This is this time of year I remember I'm different."

Hogan accepted his disability, but still longed to fit in with his peers and be part of something bigger than himself through sports. He found his way to the slopes, and in that, a means to channel the maniacal work ethic and determination he shared with some of his favorite football players.

It also led him on a path to achieving his wildest dreams.

"That drive and that determination and that work ethic that you saw on a regular basis to go win Super Bowls and go be the best team in the league every single year definitely rubbed off on me," Hogan said, sharing that he frequently wakes up in the middle of the night while training overseas to watch games. "And to this day, I am still probably the biggest Patriots fan of the team."

But with football out of the question, skiing was the next natural progression for Hogan.

Both of his parents were instructors growing up, and he loved escaping to his grandparents' home in Bennington, VT. When he was about seven years old, his mother brought him to a ski racing camp in New York. He instantly became hooked on the thrill of going that fast, and it changed the trajectory of his life.

"Skiing was one of those things that as I got older made me feel freer," Hogan said. "As a kid with a disability, I always struggled with not fitting in in school and not being as fast or not being as good at playing catch or any of that stuff in elementary school and middle school. Skiing was this place where I could come, feel free and feel the ability to just do what I wanted to. I was lucky."

Hogan felt right at home racing with other able-bodied kids, developing a supportive circle of friends. By the time he was 11, the Paralympics popped up on his radar.

At one of the ski areas his family frequented, Hogan met Kortney Clemons, an Iraq War Veteran who lost a leg and went on to qualify for the United States Paralympic track and field team. Not long after that, he watched an NBC special about the Paralympics with his mother and grandmother. The seed was planted, and he turned to them to speak his goal of becoming a Paralympic skier into existence.

"I think both my parents worked really hard to be where they are," Hogan said of his motivation. "And I think it comes from always being a kid who was motivated by defeat and feeling let down. So, I think a lot of my childhood bullying, my childhood issues with not fitting in, really has motivated me in my early adulthood and in my late teens to work as hard as I can all the time to be the best in the world and be on a level that a lot of people dream of."

Around the time of the Sochi Winter Games in 2014, Hogan had just taken silver in the national championship and realized he was just on the cusp of making the team.

Friends helped push him over the next four years, and three weeks before the opening of the Games in PyeongChang in 2018, Hogan got the call inviting him to South Korea.

The experience wasn't what he imagined, though.

Due to his last-minute call and the weather, he arrived late for the opening. Before the start of the Slalom, he was accidentally kicked in the head and became sick at the finish line of his first run. Coaches told him he was done.

"That was kind of a blow to the Games experience," Hogan said. "And then the next four years, it's getting ready for these games. I knew that my goal was to do as many events as I could."

In Beijing last month, Hogan entered his second Paralympics with hopes of Top 10 finishes in both the downhill and Super-G.

His downhill was disappointing, but he was having an incredible run in the Super-G until he came to a spot where a hole had gradually been forming. It knocked one of his skis out from under him, sending him into a barrier at around 70 mph.

"It's four years of work for 60 seconds -- that's kind of the thought process," Hogan said. "We work 365 days a year for four years to get to the top of the sport. And you can have something go wrong in a millisecond that can end it for you as quickly as it began. I struggled with it for the first 24 hours."

The language barrier left a lot of uncertainty around the injury, and with the weather moving his next event up a day, he ultimately had no choice but to return to the U.S. to get it checked out. He faced denial and regret for not pushing harder to stay after realizing his injuries were minor, but after a day or so, he turned that anger into motivation.

"The saying is the first Games is to understand how it works," Hogan said. "The second Games is to have fun and get the experience. And the third Game is where you go to win your medals. It's kind of like the saying with some Paralympians and Olympians."

That's where Hogan's new focus lies. As he has his whole life dealing with his disability, he's controlling what he can control to take himself to the next level.

Along the way to that medal, he hopes to inspire kids with his story and help grow the sport of ski racing and the Paralympics.

And if he can bring some more hardware back to Foxboro to join the Lombardi trophies after the next Paralympic Games, that's even better.

"I think a Paralympic gold medal would look pretty good next to the Super Bowl trophies," Hogan said.

"We're on to Cincinnati? No. We're on to Milan. The posters have all changed in my room, the countdown clock has started. There are no days off. We are on to Milan."

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