Being announced as ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in 2020 was a huge honour and the opportunity to work more closely with the brilliant athletes and staff at GB Snowsport is something that I can’t wait for. As Head of Sport at the BPA I already work closely with each National Governing Body across many areas of Games planning but for me to have the chance to lead the team is a dream come true.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend five Paralympic Games in my career with the BPA and some of my fondest memories come from the Winter Games in Sochi and PyeongChang. Sochi was ground-breaking in so many ways with Jade Etherington and Caroline Powell becoming our most decorated Winter Paralympians, Kelly Gallagher and Charlotte Evans winning Great Britain’s first ever gold medal on snow and the hours of coverage on Channel 4. The ParalympicsGB team continued to be front page news in PyeongChang with record breaking performances from Menna Fitzpatrick and Jen Kehoe (including that incredible gold medal on the final morning of the Games), Scott Meenagh becoming our first Nordic Skiing athlete for 20 years and the selection of our first ever Snowboard athletes.
From a personal perspective, being one of the first people to speak to Kelly and Charlotte at the bottom of the slope after their gold medal run and getting the village cleaners to join in the celebrations in our apartment after Menna and Jen’s victory are moments that will stay with me forever. It is memories such as those along with the prospect of working with the exciting group of athletes we have aiming for selection in 2022 that makes me so excited to be Chef for the team in Beijing and I am determined to ensure that we continue to build on the momentum from the last two Games and help to make Great Britain a force to be reckoned with in Winter Para sport. We will take a team to Beijing that has extraordinary potential and I can’t wait to see what can be achieved by this group of athletes.
Beijing promises to be another magnificent Games – potentially the biggest ever in terms of athlete numbers – with more slots available than ever before for female athletes and gender parity in the number of medals available. The Games will be held across three competition zones with GB Snowsport athletes competing in Yanqing (Alpine Skiing) and Zhangjiakou (Nordic Skiing and Snowboarding). As Chef de Mission it’s my job (along with my brilliant team) to ensure that we create environments across all three villages that allow athletes and staff to thrive and produce personal best performances. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that we work with GB Snowsport staff and athletes over the next 365 days to make this the best prepared ParalympicsGB team ever to attend a Winter Games.
The current unique situation we all face with Covid-19 and the postponement of the Summer Games in Tokyo means that we will need to work harder than ever to ensure that we are ready for Beijing but we have spent the last six months at the BPA planning how we will deliver two Games within six months and that work will continue as we understand what Beijing will look like and any specific plans we need to put in place.
I know that representing ParalympicsGB is a burning ambition for all the GB Snowsport athletes, whether pulling on the tracksuit for the first time or if you’ve been to multiple Games and I look forward to being part of the athletes journey as we head towards Beijing 2022.
After some brilliant results in the Snowboard Cross in Finland, do you feel like you’re in a good place with one year to go until Beijing 2022?
Yes absolutely, I injured myself just before Christmas and I wasn’t at 100% in the last races so I think once I’ve fully recovered I’ll be in a really good place. Also the training block and the comps have shown the weaknesses in my riding that we need to work on.
What’s next in terms of your training?
At the moment we aren’t to sure with travel rules changing daily. We are having a week of then we will make a plan. I think we might go to Italy for a couple of able bodied competitions and possibly a para Europa cup race.
What is the toughest part of your training schedule, and which part do you enjoy the most?
I think for me the toughest part for me would be the traveling. (I know that sounds weird). I love it once I am there I just don’t enjoy the journey to get there. I enjoy the most anytime I’m on my snowboard I love it. I also really enjoy getting in the gym and lifting weights, I’m not a big fan of cardio but it has to be done.
Do you listen to music when you train?
I do whilst I’m in the gym its vital especially at the moment whilst I’m training alone in my basement but on the snow I don’t I’ve never been able to I need to be able to hear my surroundings.
With spring approaching, how do you train during the summer months?
During the summer I skate a lot and lift weights and we try and get on snow as much as possible normally going to the glaciers in Europe.
How do you keep motivated in the short term?
It does get hard. I have my long term goal of trying to medal at the games and I look at what I need to do to get there. These are my short term goals and when I see improvements in any of these I get motivated. I do really thrive off it.
How does being a Winter Paralympian make you feel?
It’s cool I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love and to be able to compete at the top level.
By James Barnes-Miller, Para Snowboard Athlete
For as long as I can remember I have skateboarded with my brothers and was always told I would enjoy snowboarding. Eventually I went on a trip with some friends and fell in love with the mountains and the sport and wanted go back every year.
A few years later I was on another trip and got chatting with Owen Pick and Ben Moore who had just been competing at an IPC (International Paralympic Committee) banked slalom event. The team was just starting to be set up and they invited me on a training camp, where are coach at the time said he thought he could get me to the Paralympics if I was willing to put in the hard work. Sure enough, I ended up competing at the Winter Paralympic Games, PyeongChang 2018.
There are two events in Paralympic snowboarding, we have Boardercross and Banked Slalom. I love both, but boardercross is my favourite because I get a bigger adrenaline rush as there are three other people on the race course with you and you’re trying to go as fast as you can over different obstacles and some big jumps.
For snowboarding you need to be mentally strong and be able to overcome fearing the course and rationalise with yourself to go for it. For me, I get nervous on the first day of practice, so whilst we are inspecting the course I try to break down each obstacle and compare it to something I have done before.
The morning of the race I’ll get up and stretch and foam roll. Whilst I’m doing this I’ll run through the course in my head. After that I try not to think about it until I’m at the top of the course as it’s tiring to constantly thinking about and I don’t want to over think it.
Once I’m at the top of the course I’ll warm up and have a couple of minutes of quiet time to think over the course again. Normally after my first run I realise I was worrying about nothing.
I really try to avoid trying to find out who I’m racing as I want to focus on myself instead of worrying about other people. It doesn’t matter who I’m racing I’m going to try and race my own race. Normally after my first run I realise I was worrying about nothing.
On the physical side you need to be super strong as well as fast to be able to move your legs over obstacles to generate speed.
In terms of my inspirations, I need to mention Amy Purdy because her and her husband Dan Gale are doing great things for the sport. They run a programme called Adaptive Action Sports which gets athletes up to the level to compete at World Cup level and join the American team. They also organise the adaptive race at Dew Tour which is massive for the sport.
My favourite moments on snow have to be riding pow with my friends, obviously the Paralympics was very special, but nothing beats having an epic pow day!
If you’re looking to get more involved Para Snowboarding I’d say do it, it’s great – you get to travel to some awesome places to race. The Paralympic snowboard community is a family, everyone looks out for each other and helps each other.
BY OWEN PICK FOR MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
As this week is focused on thinking about mental health and the struggles people have gone through – and are still going through – I am delighted to take this opportunity to tell my story, share the challenges I had to overcome and what I have to deal with on a daily basis.
My story begins in a previous life serving for the British Army. During my service I toured Afghanistan between 2009-2010 and three 3 months into my tour I stood on an IED (improvised explosive device). Which meant the end of my time in Afghanistan and a long, windy and uncertain road ahead of me.
I arrived back to England a day after the initial injury, but I was so high on the pain killers I did not really know what was going on – it was a nice place to be in really because nothing felt real. However, as they started lowering my medication things started to become much more real for me, I had shattered my leg from mid shin down, including ankle and foot.
Then started the hardest part of my life as I spent 18 months in and out of hospital having operation after operation to try and fix my leg and foot and to try and take some pain away.
During this period my mental health was super low and I think the biggest contribution to that was the fact that I was always in pain and I found that really hard to deal with on a day to day.
My mental state saw me lose friendships, push my family away and resulted with me drinking alcohol because I thought it would help take the pain away.
I got to a point in my head where I could see that I needed to do something, I could not wait any longer for doctors to try an operation they thought might work. I had to act, and I decided to take things into my own hands. This was difficult for me because the stress of the injury had made me impatient and I needed to remain calm.
I managed to get an appointment with a specialist on feet and ankles, after going to this appointment he suggested that I should think about having my leg amputated, this was the first time that this had been mentioned and it came as very scary news but at the same time I felt a sense of relief that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
So, at the age of 19 it seemed the only prospect of a better life would be to have my leg amputated. This injury had taken everything and almost overnight I had lost friends, I had pushed my family away and I was just not in a good place.
I became negative to be around and generally lost my sense of being, I hated that about myself. After about two months of thinking over what the last doctor had told me and growing tired of who I was becoming I decided to go ahead with the amputation. I was terrified because I knew that this decision was final. But I was confident it was the only way forward.
The moment I woke up from there operation I felt like a totally new person the pain was gone, that relief was like nothing I had ever felt, within 3 months I was up and walking on my new prosthetic leg and I was rock climbing in Spain a few weeks after that.
I of course still have my challenges with mental health from the injury, from being at war, from losing friends and the rest, but I just refocused my mind on being as strong and positive as I could be and not let the fact that I now only had one leg stop me from doing anything I wanted to.
I found that I was very good at redirecting any negative thoughts I would have into a positive outcome and I then found that I was also very good at passing this information to others who had similar struggles and that became an ongoing passion of mine. If I can help people out through my experiences, then that makes me feel really good, I want to help people know it is ok to not be ok.
I now have been on the GB Snowsport Para-Snowboard Team for 6 years I have just this season achieved goals that I did not think possible, I won the Dew Tour and also ended up Overall Banked Slalom World Champion.
They were achievements I could have only dreamed of, but I think the crucial element to my success is talking about my mental health issues and redirecting the negatives into positives. I still have down days as many people do and it is important the stigma around this is lifted – negative days are part of human nature. The key is to remember how we get over the down days and how we move forward. The way I look at it was every time I looked at the positives something good happened in my life.
I am going leave you with this thought – I get asked all the time in life and interviews: “Owen do you regret anything or would you go back and change anything?” My reply is always the same. No – getting blown up sucked but the way it has changed my life, the things I have done, the people I have met, and the things I have learnt about myself I would not change for the world.
Remember it’s not what happens in life, it is how you deal with it.