On International Women’s Day, GB Snowsport Paralympic Team Leader, Jayne Kavanagh, explores the powerful legacy that British female Paralympic athletes have had on snowsport
Among the many incredible things about our Para Snowsport programme, one that feels worth drawing attention to today is the significant mark made on the sport by female athletes.
Take the recently retired Kelly Gallagher, for example. Just eight years ago, Britain had never won a Winter Paralympic gold medal. And only a few years before that, Britain had never won a medal of any description at a Para Skiing World Championships. Kelly was the trailblazer who shattered both glass ceilings.
Kelly left an indelible mark on our sport, and alongside her Paralympic gold retired with four World Championship silver medals and five bronzes. She also left behind a legacy which has been picked up by some of our most successful athletes today.
Millie Knight was just 15 years old when she competed at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, becoming Britain’s youngest every Winter Paralympian. Three years later she was taking World Championships gold in Downhill, and then returned from the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games with three medals, two silvers and a bronze. She’s since added medals in Lillehammer and Beijing, with the prospect of more to follow.
Her teammate, Menna Fitzpatrick, is also carrying that legacy forwards. Her astonishing PyeongChang Games successes – a gold, two silvers, and a bronze – sit alongside her eight World Championships medals (three golds, three silvers, two bronzes) as testament to the impact she has already had on Para Alpine skiing at the age of just 23. Her record shows no signs of slowing: she’s already taken two more medals in Beijing. Those first medals in PyeongChang were themselves won with another female Paralympic trailblazer in her guide up until the beginning of this season, Jen Kehoe, who herself made a huge impact on the sport before returning to her career in the armed forces.
And in our squad at these Games, there are yet more inspirational female figures to be found. Take Shona Brownlee, for example. Our first Alpine sit skiing Paralympian since Anna Turney last turned out at the Games in 2014 and an athlete who has made astonishing progress since beginning to race competitively just three years ago.
Or Hope Gordon, an outstanding Para Canoeist who competes as part of the British Canoe high performance programme, set to become ParalympicsGB’s first ever female Nordic athlete.
Back home, we have yet more athletes showing the astonishing strength-in-depth of women leading the way in British Para Snowsport, including Nina Sparks who is making waves in her first season in the Para Snowboard squad.
At the height of competition, no athlete is really thinking about their legacy, or their impact. Their thoughts and focus are on delivering the best performances they can, and giving an account of themselves that they can be proud of.
It’s for the rest of us, then, to make sure we have our eyes open to the bigger picture: that athletes like Kelly, Millie, Menna, Jen, Shona, Hope, Nina, Katie, and so many others are at the top of the game and reminding us, this International Women’s Day, that in our sport women really do lead the way.
Header Image: SOCHI, RUSSIA – MARCH 10: Gold medallists Kelly Gallagher of Great Britain (R) and guide Charlotte Evans celebrate during the medal ceremony for the Women’s Super-G – Visually Impaired during day three of Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on March 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)