US Paralympian Kory Puderbaugh was invited to the White House by President Barack Obama in September 2016, for an event to celebrate the achievements of US Paralympians and Olympics at the Games in Rio. Puderbaugh says he had to be pulled through a kitchen lift because they didn't have an elevator for wheelchair access.
CNN  — 

If you get the chance to visit the White House, it’s an occasion you’re likely to never forget.

That’s certainly the case for Kory Puderbaugh, who went to the White House in 2016, and made quite the entrance to the presidential residence

The wheelchair rugby player had been invited by then President Barack Obama in late 2016, having made his first appearance for Team USA at the Rio Paralympics barely a year prior.

“When we went, they didn’t have an elevator [for wheelchair access], so they had to pull us in through the kitchen lift,” he told the Olympics Information Service on Thursday.

The White House did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Nonetheless, Puderbaugh has fond memories of his visit. He joked around with the former US President and enjoyed a tour of the the historic building.

“I asked him when he was going to get his six-pack abs back,” he said. “He laughed and said, ‘I’m still working on my four-pack.’”

“It was cool to meet him and his wife and get a tour of the White House. In movies, they portray it as being big and spacious, but it’s actually smaller and a lot more cozy – although there’s a lot of bathrooms,” he added.

A matter of destiny

Wroclaw-born Puderbaugh was diagnosed with congenital limb deficiency at birth – having been born without both of his legs below the knee, his lower left arm and most of his right arm – but that didn’t stop him from taking up wheelchair basketball and wrestling in high school and becoming a qualified aircraft pilot and former state chess champion.

However, it was when a friend introduced him to wheelchair rugby that he found his true calling, participating in the sport in order to overcome the trials of his disability.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to play this, this is a sport for guys in wheelchairs,’ and he knocked me right on my butt my first time. I tried to knock him over, and I couldn’t get him over, and I thought, ‘Man, I have to figure out how to do this,’” he said, according to the Paralympics website.

“In this sport, you’ll see fast guys, you’ll see guys that are a little slower, but it’s a team sport, and everyone plays a crucial role,” he added.

Puderbaugh represented Team USA's wheelchair rugby team at the Rio Paralympics, eventually clinching silver at the final.

Humble beginnings

For someone who was abandoned shortly after birth by his parents in Poland, Puderbaugh’s journey to the Paralympics signals his unwavering sense of drive and optimism.

When he was five, Puderbaugh was brought to the US by Florida non-profit organization Gabriel House of Care.

“I have memories of the orphanage and being visited by somebody who I think might have been my mother,” Puderbaugh told the Olympics Information Service.

“And I remember flying over to America; I knew something was happening, but I didn’t know exactly what,” he added.

He was eventually adopted at the age of 15 by a middle school teacher living in Idaho, John Cochrane, after various foster homes and adoptive families.

“My childhood was a rollercoaster, and consistency was sometimes lacking,” he said. “Later on, I had two host families who fed me, clothed me and gave me opportunities to excel at rugby, wrestling, chess – whatever I wanted to do. They took me in as one of their own.”

While Puderbaugh says he’s settled in the US, he’s also curious about his own ancestral history.

“My girlfriend has done some research to try and find out more about my birth family, but I’m still waiting a little bit longer before I take more action myself,” he said.

“I love my life and I have an amazing family in Idaho, I feel like I’m blessed and I’m just not ready to fully open that chapter yet.”

The 25-year-old was excited to compete in his second Paralympics at Tokyo 2020 this summer.

Having reached the final with the men’s wheelchair rugby team at the Rio Paralympics to win silver, Puderbaugh repeated his success in the mixed wheelchair rugby final in Japan, winning silver on Aug 29.

And who knows, perhaps he’ll soon be back at the White House.