Posted: Wednesday March 1, 2006 5:10PM; Updated: Wednesday March 1, 2006 7:17PM
Skiing brought Ralph Green all the way from the inner city to the Colorado slopes.
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Bedford-Stuyvesant isn't given to much snowfall in the winter months (last February's 27-inch abomination aside). Its elevation (roughly 59 feet above sea level) isn't especially conducive to schussing down the slopes either -- which might explain why the Brooklyn neighborhood produces so few skiers of note. Bed-Stuy is better known for NBA stars like Connie Hawkins and emcees like Biggie than for standout skiers.
But Ralph Green is out to change all that. The 28-year-old Bed-Stuy native already made history four years ago when he became the first black man to make the U.S. Disabled Alpine team.
With the Paralympics set to begin Thursday, Green (who will compete in Nordic and Alpine events) hopes to join fellow American Shani Davis as the only men of hue to win individual medals in a Winter Games.
"You have athletes who spend their whole lives training to get to an elite level in their sport," says Green. "When I'm in that opening ceremonies and that red, white and blue for the United States flag come up, that's gonna be one of the proudest moments in my life."
Certainly, there are other environments better suited to nurturing athletic talent than Bed-Stuy -- once one of the rougher neighborhoods in New York. But when it came to the games boys played, whatever the hood lacked in resources Green and his mates made up for in creativity. A playground favorite called "hot piece 'n' butter" held special intrigue for this reporter.
"You have to have a belt," Green cheerily explains. "One person hides the belt, and everybody else's got to find it. If you're hot, the person's got to tell you. ('You're hot, hot, hot!') A lot of times, you'll fake like you don't see the belt and let everybody get close. And then the person who's the hottest will grab the belt and tear everybody up until they get to the base."
This poor man's version of Marco Polo seems more like something Green's parents might dream up to keep Green (the second eldest of five children) in line, but the standout skier assures that neither was especially given to corporal punishment. His mother was a cheerleader in high school, while his father played football and basketball. Both understood the hold athletics had on their young son, but only Green's mother understood how best to use it to her advantage.
"Instead of beating me," Green says, "she would tell me I couldn't go to football practice."