Posted: Wednesday March 1, 2006 5:10PM; Updated: Wednesday March 1, 2006 7:17PM
Green showed an aptitude for the sport -- and dishonesty -- at an early age, lying his way onto his 14-year-old Pop Warner team as a 12-year-old.
"And I destroyed 'em," recalls Green, whose square jaw, broad shoulders and beefy forearms and biceps call to mind his bygone gridiron career. "I got MVP of the league, MVP of the team, MVP of the all-star game. After that experience, I kinda looked at myself as a ringer."
By the time Green reached high-school age, he was a bona fide blue-chipper, going into his freshman season at Boys and Girls High School as the starting quarterback and point guard on the school's varsity. But in August 1992, weeks away from a sophomore year that had him looking forward to a matchup against another Brooklyn legend, Coney Island's Stephon Marbury, in an upcoming fall hoops tournament, Green saw his dreams of becoming a world class athlete go up in smoke. Gun smoke.
He was walking down a Brooklyn sidewalk with a friend when he was shot in a random drive-by. The bullet (which spared his friend) pierced his lower back and ricocheted off his pelvis before coming to rest inside his intestines. The single shot left Green comatose for three of the eight months he was hospitalized. After 28 surgeries, he awakened to find his left leg amputated at the hip and a mother at his bedside who struggled for the words to comfort her young son. (She left it to one of Green's friends to deliver the news about his lost leg.)
But he was determined to resume his productive life. Once out of the hospital, he was fitted with a prosthetic leg that -- because of where the leg was amputated -- made walking excruciatingly painful. Desperate for a less strenuous way to move around, Green taught himself how to ride a bike, using his left hand and artificial leg to churn the left pedal, his right leg to churn the right pedal, and steadying the handlebar with his right hand.
His introduction to disabled sports came through Aspire, a Long Island-based group of disabled athletes who travel the country -- and happened to share office space with Green's prostheticist. ("Good way to recruit athletes, huh?") A year after he checked out of the hospital, the group treated him to a ski trip in the Poconos. While Green dismissed skiing almost immediately, Kevin Jardine, coach of the U.S. Disabled Alpine team, was struck by Green's size (6 feet, 180 pounds) and limitless potential.
After some coaxing by Jardine, Green, then 17, moved to Winter Park, Colo., to train as a ski racer full time -- but gave into homesickness after three months. ("I wasn't focused; I wasn't ready to be a ski racer," he says of his moving back home. "And I had a girlfriend I thought I was in love with.")
He took the next four years off -- in that time finishing high school, then pursuing majors in physical therapy and social work at Long Island University. It wasn't until Green was out of school and dreading the prospect of 9-to-5 work that he began to give a career in skiing a second thought. He returned to Winter Park in 2000, dedicating himself to daily six-hour workouts. He hasn't abandoned the slopes since.
"It took me a long time to get back into ski racing," says Green, who now makes his home in Vail, Colo. "But I was determined once I saw other athletes skiing well."
Before setting off downhill, Green first clicks his right leg into a ski and steadies himself with two poles. Once in motion, he assumes a rhythmic fluidity. "I've got a hip-hop style," he says with a laugh.
Green has made significant strides since joining the U.S. Disabled Alpine team in 2002. (It took him 1½ hours to complete his first downhill run.) In 2004 he finished sixth in a World Cup event. Last year he added top-10 finishes in the slalom (fourth) and downhill (ninth) at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships.
A gold medal in Turin would go a long way toward helping Green reach his goal of becoming an ambassador to the sport, one capable of bridging the chasm between the slums and the slopes.
"I'm not saying I'm going to get every kid and train them to be a ski racer," he says, "but with the support of certain organizations, I want to scout young kids out in urban communities and basically introduce skiing to them and see who likes it."
While in Turin, best believe Green will be keeping the hood close. Before hurtling himself down a snowy Italian Alp, eventually reaching speeds in excess of 70 mph, he'll bump a little Jay-Z or Fabolous to soothe his nerves. And, you know, keep it hip-hop. "I gotta rep Brooklyn," he says.