Heading Stateside

 
 Me with the largest bag I've ever seen (to hold my sitski)

Me with the largest bag I've ever seen (to hold my sitski)

 

I write this from the plane to Denver – I’m flying Norwegian Air which was amazingly inexpensive - £230 before baggage etc. and I’m pleasantly surprised – there isn’t too much of a difference between this and BA (who I usually fly to the States with) so I’m very pleased.

I’m really excited to get to Winter Park and to get back on snow. In December I was in Pitztal for a training camp and races, which was really good (despite the races being cancelled due to very poor conditions). My skiing felt like it had really turned a corner and felt great. We were mostly freeskiing again which is really helpful but I’m also excited to get into some gates to get me prepared for racing. I am certain that my progress can be attributed to spending quite a bit of time at Chelski – the ski centre or ‘Urban Mountain’ which I have found has been really helpful in working on my body position and dialling it in, without the other factors that skiing on a mountain often presents, like poor visability, bumps, as well as bypassing t-bars and poma lifts that can be tiring and time consuming. For anyone looking for a bit of practice before going skiing this winter I really recommend giving it a try. Check them out: chel-ski.uk.

 
 Me on my new Rossignol slalom ski at Chelski.

Me on my new Rossignol slalom ski at Chelski.

 

I’m (probably understandably) feeling slightly nervous, probably due to the early morning and slightly stressful arrival at Gatwick airport. Travelling with quite so much luggage when you’re relying on disability assistance for help with the kit isn’t particularly breezy, especially as there are no porters at Gatwick airport anymore which is usually what I’d use. But thankfully someone came to help and managed to squeeze my stuff onto a buggy usually reserved for transporting people and I met him at the check in desk. As usual, I was a little worried about my luggage weighing too much (five skis + outriggers in a single ski bag!) but thankfully it was all allowed through.

 
 Happy to be back on snow! (And yes, the bar is always down now ;-) )

Happy to be back on snow! (And yes, the bar is always down now ;-) )

 

Update:

I now write this from my bedroom in Winter Park, I got in from skiing not long ago (third day here, third day out!) although I am taking a little time to acclimatise on the mountain. It’s very high up here so I get fatigued more easily than usual. That’ll settle soon enough though. I’ve been free-skiing so far, on the GB coach's advice, rather than getting straight into gates. I do, after all, have quite a bit of time here so am in no hurry. Especially as I intend to free-ski almost as much as train while I’m here so I can get them most out of my time here. I’m looking forward to doing all sorts of skiing here, getting better in powder, skiing some more trees (so far I’ve only skied fairly sparse tree sections which I’ve really enjoyed), as well as hitting some bigger jumps too. That, and lots of training of course. So many intentions – right now I’m in bed having sacked off my plan to go to the gym this afternoon! Better work on my stamina!

It’s lovely to be back, I feel so happy here and it’s great to see lots of friends. Winter Park is a really small town so it’s much friendlier than my home city of London. There’s a coffee shop I’ll go to everyday (finding a cup of Earl Grey essential right now after a morning skiing) and it’s nice to be welcomed by name each time by the lovely staff there. Same goes with the bus driver, NSCD staff, gym staff as well as the lifties, amongst others. It’s a world away from London and I feel really lucky to be able to experience living here as well.

 
 Three days in and short on photos... this was how my first day went. Rode up on the lift, and broke an outrigger clean in half getting off the lift. Must have had a crack and been waiting to happen. Cheers to Pat in the equipment room who came to my rescue fixing one I broke last year in a flash.

Three days in and short on photos... this was how my first day went. Rode up on the lift, and broke an outrigger clean in half getting off the lift. Must have had a crack and been waiting to happen. Cheers to Pat in the equipment room who came to my rescue fixing one I broke last year in a flash.

 

One thing I’ve been doing which I’ve found really helpful is journaling my experiences, partly for my skiing as a training journal, but more really for myself. It was one of my GB teammates recommendations and she finds it really helps her mental health. This ski racing business can take a toll on one’s mental health, it’s competitive obviously, but for me it actually comes from being hard on myself. It’s New Year’s Eve today and, amongst other resolutions, I’m going to work on stopping comparing myself to others so much. Each of us have our own journeys and we need to carve our own destinies! Happy New Year everyone!

Hello again Hintertux!

 
 Enjoying my new Rossignol GS skis

Enjoying my new Rossignol GS skis

 

I returned home on Sunday from a great ten day training camp back in Hintertux in Austria. As usual we were staying at the very comfortable Kossler Hotel with the lovely Karina and her family. After arriving on Thursday, I unpacked and prepared my skis ready to go the following day. Thanks to the great guys at Rossignol, from whom I have now got a healthy racers discount, I had a new pair of slalom as well as GS skis so I was looking forward to getting going on them.

Each day I woke up at 6am to get ready for activation at 6.30am. Usually I get as ready as I can the night before so I don't have to use my brain too much that early. In activation I mostly stretch out my arms and neck as these usually get a bit of a hammering and this camp was no exception. I've found that I've got quite reduced mobility in my arms so I'm working hard on that both while abroad as well as at home with the brilliant Natalie at Neurolink. Any fellow SCI's needing a bit of work on mobility/posture - get in touch with them. One of the best decisions I've made: neurophysio.london

 
 Us waiting in line with the USA team at the crack of dawn

Us waiting in line with the USA team at the crack of dawn

 

After breakfast there's a walk to the first cable car at the base of the glacier, once there there's a bit of a wait for them to open the lift. It's important that we get there with plenty of time so we can get moving as soon as we're able. A few days in we were joined by the USA Paralympic team, quite a few of whom I know from my time spent in Winter Park, so it was fun to chat to them in the morning while we waited as well as taking the cable cars together. We also shared a training lane with them so got to ski together too which was nice. They have an A,B and C team long-listed for the Paralympics next year and the majority of all the teams were there. It was cool to be able to see and ski with some of the very best in the business, particularly the male sitting and standing class. As things ramp up for the Games next year, national teams are out in force. We were with teams from all over the world including China, South Korea, Australia and many European teams. I can't wait to watch the Games on TV next year as there will be some familiar faces to cheer on.

We spent the first few days free skiing and working on individual things. I was working on rotating the ski which will give me more control over direction, as I tend to go straight in for the carve. I was quite surprised to find that rotating my body gave me the ability to rotate the ski more so that was a really helpful learning experience. My own personal challenge on this camp was to get on with my new equipment. Both skis as well as the leg fairing that I had made by Aspen Seating earlier in the year. I hadn't used it very much as I seem to have a slight issue with mixing things up and changing equipment from what I'm used to. It's an example of how much of this is mental and to do with mindset and confidence. 

 
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The brand new slalom skis were stiffer than I'm used to and I took a while to get used to them, but it was definitely a step in the right direction to get on my new equipment, especially while I had the time and no pressure of a race while I was there. That was a mistake I made in Pitztal last year when I got on a new ski a few days before a giant slalom race which wasn't very successful and left we with a nice gash on my forehead. Not the confidence builder I needed before the race! 

The following day I got back on my old GS skis which felt great. After a few runs I switched to my new GS skis which I felt really comfortable on. I'm starting to feel the difference between different skis which is a good sign as it shows I'm using them properly. The new ones felt great and have some more life in them than my trusty Atomic skis which were bought second hand a few years ago so are on their last legs. GS is definitely my favourite discipline at the moment but I'm determined to enjoy slalom in the same way. 

The conditions were miles better than last time and we were blessed with good visibility and even some bluebird days. So I wasn't left pining after Colorado (which seems to have no end of bluebird days - although maybe that's just me remembering the best of days.) All in all I made some good progress, quite a bit of time was spent free skiing, which I can understand the benefits of, although it does always feel great to get back into gates, especially as races are on the horizon. As this is one of the only opportunities to train GS so the remainder of the camp was spent on our long boards. I'm looking forward to the first GS race of the season in Pitztal at the start of December.

 
 Beautiful view back down the valley 

Beautiful view back down the valley 

 

Each day we spent about 3 hours skiing in the morning before coming down in the cable car to get some lunch and then coming back down to the base where we'd head back to the hotel. It's a beautiful walk / or roll for some, back to the hotel, I always quite enjoy a solitary moment rolling back down the hill after the morning with the team. After this it's a quick change and a recovery session where we'll do stretching and generally recovery of our muscles. Then we have a few hours to ourselves to shower, rest, catch up on emails or tune and wax skis in preparation for the next day. Then at 4 or 5 we'll have a video analysis session most days and sometimes an education session following this. 

 
 Tuning skis in the sunshine

Tuning skis in the sunshine

 

During this camp we had some really helpful education sessions led by coach, Lynn who was an able bodied racer, so who has a huge amount of knowledge and experience to impart. I felt like we were given a good grounding about the fundamentals of ski racing like racing line, ski racing rules as well as some of the technical aspects of skiing - with a focus on sit-skiing as there were so many of us in attendance. 

All in all it was a good camp and it was really nice that we didn't have to take any extra days off due to poor conditions. The more practice the better! Since I've been back I've been pretty active; skiing at Snozone in Milton Keynes, putting some time in at Chel-ski, the ski-plex which is like a treadmill for skiing. I'm finding it great for dialling in the body position and creating the right sort of angles. And also getting as much time on the water as the weather or light allows. 

 
 Teammate Amber and I doing it for the girls!

Teammate Amber and I doing it for the girls!

 

Next up is first race of the season - slalom at Landgraaf in Holland. I'm driving over on 4th November for a few days of training before the races start. Now I've recently taken delivery of my British Parasnowsport team kit too I'll be wearing it with pride! 

 
 Happy to have got my team kit!

Happy to have got my team kit!

 

Training camp season kicks off

 
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I write this on my last day of my British Parasnowsport training camp in Hintertux in Austria. We’ve been skiing on a glacier which can come with it’s own problems, namely poor conditions. Some of the days we’ve either taken a run and come in after one or two due to poor conditions, some we’ve not gone out at all. I find skiing with very poor visability one of the hardest things about skiing. I don’t know whether it comes from being in a monoski and consequently not having direct contact with my body (such as feet for stand up skiers) to the snow. Either way, it totally throws me off and I become pretty scared when I can’t see a thing! Still, it’s great to have those challenges now so that if we’re presented with this in a race, we won’t be totally thrown off guard. That having been said, I always hope for a bluebird day with some good snow.

 
 Heading down the hill in a piste basher

Heading down the hill in a piste basher

 

It's been great to be back with lots more of my teammates, despite being quite a tricky camp. I did have a pretty adventurous journey down the mountain in a piste basher after we found something up with the ski I was on. I was basically in there in my monoski - I suppose it was a pretty efficient way to get down safely! I’ve been very spoiled having spent quite a bit of time in Colorado where the weather is invariably good (albeit very cold in January) and the visibility is rarely a barrier. I’ve managed to find somewhere to stay so I’ll be heading back there after Christmas for a couple of months of intensive skiing. Now I’ve got my new Aspen Seating ski seat which I’m feeling really happy with, I can’t wait to get some serious mileage in it.

I did have a few decent days during the camp, although not as many as I’d wanted due to issues with my skis – life of a sit skier! They’re constantly bending or breaking. My pair of Rossignol slalom skis which I now love, are going to have to be replaced, because one is snapped and the other has a dodgy side edge. With any luck I’m going to get some more of the same type, Rossignol Hero's.

Training camps are always quite full on and intense but they’re a great experience, particularly the skiing, and despite the early starts and ‘activation’ to set our bodies up at 7am. That's athlete life though! Despite some not ideal conditions I’ve had a good time and learnt a great deal thanks to the brilliant British Parasnowsport coaches, especially Dougie who's coaching the sit-skiers - never an easy task! As ever, it's been really nice staying at the Koessler Hotel with the lovely Karina who has looked after us all very well. I’m back here in two and a half weeks for a ten-day training camp and can’t wait!

 
IMG_0107.JPG
 

Update:

I’m now updating this having been home for a few days after a very long journey back. The EasyJet plane got struck by lightning meaning that we couldn’t use it to fly back to London from Munich. I managed to get on one about five and a half hours later (probably a perk of being a wheelchair user and making myself visable to the EasyJet staff) but it meant for a good 12 hours of travelling. Unfortunately when I returned home my wheelchair wasn’t functioning as it should and the wheels weren’t turning properly. It turns out the pins that go into the axel tube were actually bent – the guys at GBL wheelchairs were pretty dumbfounded at how bent they were. Apparently it’s a result of the tons of luggage putting pressure on the wheelchair and that’s the thing that will go first. Plane travel in my experience can wreak havoc on wheelchairs. Complaint issued to EasyJet!

 
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I’ve already been down to the lake a couple of times since I got back and things are going really well there. I’ve just moved up to an 18 metre rope line which is the length you need to be able to use to ski the outer course and to compete. Bring it on! This weekend is looking to be not too chilly so I’m going to have a good go to finish the year off in style with any luck. On Monday I’m heading up to Snozone in Milton Keynes for some slalom training with the Gravity Academy. I’m counting down until the first international race of the season which takes place in Landgraaf at the start of November so this should be some useful training.

 

an unexpected turn of events

 
 Me on the morning of the fateful day 

Me on the morning of the fateful day 

 

Since I last updated my blog a lot has happened. Last month I wrote about getting my swanky new custom made seat from Aspen Seating. It is quite a long process to get it exactly as I like, but I had just had the back rest changed to be more suited to my level of injury. It now curves round my side a little more and it feels great. This was sorted, I was gearing up to go to Park City in Utah for some races in a couple of days, when suddenly something pretty major happened.

I was still getting used to my new seat, and after a day of slalom practice, I wanted to see how it felt if I had the backrest moved forwards a bit. I did this and went out skiing on my own (something I often do if I haven't got a friend to ski with). I had a great morning, took some runs with people I saw out on the hill, and was feeling really good. I was nearly done for the morning so went up the chairlift in order to get to a point where I wanted to ski down from. 

In America, the majority of people don't pull the bar down on a chairlift, I don't really know why but that's the way it is. Monoskiers included. I'll usually pull it down when I can reach the bar but on this occasion I was too far forward to reach. This is quite often the case, but as it takes a lot of effort to get off the chairlift at the top, I've never been worried that I'd come off. Little did I know...

I was sitting with my arm on the back of the chair whilst mid-way up. When I took my arm off and faced forwards, I felt myself slipping off the front of the chair. I clearly remember, at that moment, thinking I was going to die. Seconds later I landed on the ground - 28 feet below. I recall feeling amazed that I was still alive and my head, neck and arms were okay but I just couldn't believe what had happened and was in a state of shock. I also had a great pain in my chest and was hyperventilating. I had landed in a pile of soft snow. If it wasn't it might have been a very different story.

 
 You can see my plated ribs on the left hand side (it looks a bit like a bicycle chain)

You can see my plated ribs on the left hand side (it looks a bit like a bicycle chain)

 

Shortly after, ski patrol arrived, gave me oxygen and moved me carefully onto a backboard on the sled. We weren't far from the ER room so they got me there within minutes. I remember being very scared and in a lot of pain but the team in the ER were absolutely fantastic. I've got to know a few of them there so they were very concerned for me. I was put on a drip, given painkillers, oxygen and they gave me some x-rays. They found I had badly broken four ribs on my right side and punctured a lung. Because they were concerned that I'd done further damage below my level of injury I was sent by ambulance to the hospital in Denver.

When I arrived, my mum was called, who then booked the next flight out of London. I had numerous tests and scans in the hospital but was very out of it with the strong painkillers so this time, and the few days following, are very blurred. Luckily I had no further damage but because my ribs were badly broken they wanted to operate a put a metal plate to fix my ribs, they did this the following morning, and as I came round, my mum had arrived. I was very glad and grateful to see her. 

 
 Feeling very spaced out in ICU

Feeling very spaced out in ICU

 

I spent the next four days in ICU being very well cared for by the wonderful nurses there. I had visits from lots of people from Winter Park and felt very blessed with so many messages of love and support. At the start I could barely move due to pain, but with each day, I felt better and better. After ICU I spent three further days in hospital. Then, having been discharged, my mum and I stayed in a hotel nearby because I had been advised not to go up to altitude for a few more days.

A week following my accident we came back to Winter Park. It was lovely to see everyone and I think people were assured to see that I was okay. By the sounds of it I had been the talk of the town! After a few days in Winter Park my mum and I booked flights to San Diego. I was intending to go at the end of February but figured that, by then, I would be ready to ski so decided to change my flight to go then to recover. It would have been tough to stay in Winter Park unable to ski. 

 
 My friend Kalim Smith, and I, who kindly had us to stay in Carlsbad

My friend Kalim Smith, and I, who kindly had us to stay in Carlsbad

 

We stayed with a friend of mine in Carlsbad, a small town outside of San Diego, California. It was perfect. He had a guest apartment right beside his own, and it was all geared up for wheelchair users. He also broke his back six years ago. His intentions behind making his properties accessible were so they could be a place for people to heal. It couldn't have been more ideal for me! He lives a five minute walk from the ocean, close to all the shops and restaurants, but also has a backyard where we could sunbathe in private! It is the most wonderful place, and I had one of the best holidays I've had in a long time - despite the broken ribs! Kalim was very generous letting us stay there - it couldn't have come at a better time. I will certainly be heading back there before too long!

 
 Happy on my gourmet tour of Carlsbad

Happy on my gourmet tour of Carlsbad

 

I'm now back in Winter Park, have been spending a bit of time in the gym stretching and starting to lift a bit (as well as making the most of the hot tub and steam room - got to help surely?!) This weekend is the Wells Fargo Cup race which I'm sad to be missing out on but am hoping to be skiing by Monday which will be a month after my accident.

Lots of people have told me that injuring oneself is part and parcel of ski racing, which I guess I knew. It was a very scary thing to happen but I just keep reminding myself how lucky I am and how much worse it could have been. I was disappointed to miss out on the races at Park City, especially because it would have been my chance to improve my points. This will have set me back a bit and may well have implications for the near future - namely, qualifying for the Paralympics in 2018. But, thank goodness it wasn't worse, I may have never skied again, so I can only be grateful and be glad that I have a guardian angel watching out for me.

 
 Was sad to say goodbye to this beautiful place but I don't doubt that I'll be back!

Was sad to say goodbye to this beautiful place but I don't doubt that I'll be back!

 

 

 

Update from across the pond!

 
 The Brits are back! Me, Laurie, Scott, Charlotte (and Danny - token American!)

The Brits are back! Me, Laurie, Scott, Charlotte (and Danny - token American!)

 

I write this from my condo in Winter Park, Colorado on a day off from skiing. I flew out after Christmas and have been here for three weeks. I was due to take part in the Winter Park Open race just after new year but unfortunately the race I was doing was cancelled due to too much snow! It was a real shame but at least I have another one in three weeks time in Park City, Utah to focus on. We have had a lot of snow and consequently quite a few powder days which have been a blast. Powder skiing in a monoski, especially for me being an LW10-1 (which means little or no core strength), can be difficult and I recall this time last year when I really struggled in the powder. Happily, I am well able to ski it now, and can finally see what all the fuss is about! Now I'm counting down the weeks until my next race I'm hoping for less powder days as I want to get as much training in gates as I can so that I can perform well in the race. 

This week I spent two days at Aspen Seating down in Denver to get fitted for my new custom made sit ski seat which has been funded for me by the very generous Matt Hampson Foundation (http://matthampsonfoundation.org/) - a fantastic charity that supports people who are have been seriously injured. I was put onto the foundation by a Back Up colleague and friend of mine, Tim Farr who was a ski racer with the British Disabled Ski Team, and went to the Paralympics in Vancouver in 2010. He has been great in giving me advice about ski racing and I spoke to him about getting a new seat for my rig as it was something that I had been thinking about for a while and he suggested I get in touch with them. I contacted the foundation and the CEO arranged to meet me at the Snozone in Milton Keynes during a training session. I met with him after he'd watched me skiing and we spoke about my ambitions and about the custom seat I wanted to get. He told me that they would be happy to support me and to fund this seat. I was obviously thrilled and was really excited to come to America and get my new seat.

I spent the first appointment getting a mould made for my seat where I basically sat in the shell seat which was filled with that stuff people stick flowers in. Then I was lifted out of it and Matt covered it with wet plaster strips which quickly dried. Once it was covered he lifted it out and it was a mould of my bum! I came back the following Friday and from that mould Matt had made the foam insert that goes into the shell which I sit on. I sat in this and it fitted like an absolute glove! Following this he attached the various straps that hold me in place on my thighs, hips and stomach. The next step was decide on the position of the backrest and to insert padding to make it fit me perfectly. I have slight scoliosis in my lower back so the lumbar section was padded so as to accommodate this. It definitely means that it would be pointless anyone stealing this expensive piece of it as it won't fit anyone but me!

 
 Almost there! Matt at Aspen Seating putting together my seat

Almost there! Matt at Aspen Seating putting together my seat

 

I must admit I was a little nervous about taking it out for the first time as I was so sure there would be things I wasn't happy with. I was instructed to take it easy for the first few runs, which I did, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could ski in it absolutely fine! It has some different features like a fixed back rather than an adjustable one, it's slightly higher due to more foam underneath me, and the backrest is shaped differently to my previous seat, but I was really pleased with the way it felt! It will take a bit of getting used to and possibly some adjustments (I need to go back to Aspen Seating to have my leg cover added next week anyway) but all in all, its a fantastic seat and I'm really pleased with it. A huge thank you to the Matt Hampson Foundation for funding it for me. I am so grateful! Will definitely get some pictures up on social media of the finished article when it's completed.

My next race is in three weeks time so I'll be getting my head down and working hard on and off the slopes before then. Luckily Winter Park has a fantastic gym with great facilities which I've been using for workouts and recovery sessions after skiing. Today I've had a day off (and caught up with some much needed life admin!) but I'm looking forward to getting back on the hill tomorrow.

Something a little different

Back in April, when I first started working at Back Up, I went along to the Spinal Unit Games; a great event for those recently discharged from spinal units across the country to compete as a team at a range of sports, often attended by British team coaches and NGBs (national governing bodies) for the different sports. I didn't go after I left Stoke Mandeville so I was intrigued to see what it was all about. In our orange t-shirts we were there to run a wheelchair skills obstacle course competition and to talk about Back Up and the great work that we do. It is at this time, shortly after leaving hospital, that people are often very vulnerable and, certainly for me, it's when Back Up couldn't have come at a better time.

 
 Me having ago on the awesome (segway style) Genny wheelchair at the Spinal Unit Games - definitely on my wish list!

Me having ago on the awesome (segway style) Genny wheelchair at the Spinal Unit Games - definitely on my wish list!

 

During the day that I went, I chatted to a lot of people, particularly seeking out those in the Sheffield and Pinderfields hospital teams as these are the spinal units I work with. Alongside this, we had a chance to have a go at some of the sports,  which was a lot of fun. I tried archery (which I was pretty hopeless at!), badminton and table tennis (where I was sorely beaten by a friend who's now training with the GB team!) and at the end of the day, before I was about to leave, I popped into the shooting building to see if they were still running it. I was curious because I can remember when I was younger, having a go with an air rifle, shooting balloons and cans on our garden fence. I vaguely remember not being too bad at it but mostly I remember how good my late father was. People were always telling us how good he was and my brothers have inherited his talent. So I suppose I wanted to see if I could get a bullseye.

The coach had finished off for the day when I came in but offered me a go. I started with a bigger target which I managed to get on to the (bigger) centre, then he switched the target to a smaller one, on which I was very close! I was pretty chuffed and took my targets home with great pride! The coach took my email address but I didn't think much more of it.

 
 Was happy with my near bullseye - although didn't manage the 'cluster' that was apparently what was the aim.

Was happy with my near bullseye - although didn't manage the 'cluster' that was apparently what was the aim.

 

A few weeks later I got an email from him asking me to come back for a trial day at the same shooting range at Stoke Mandeville. I went along and, under supervision of one of the coaches - a Russian man called Igor of few words, namely, yes and no if you were doing it right or wrong. Me and the other guy, Scott, stifled our giggles and followed instructions. I was pleased enough with my shots on the target, which I got pretty well on the bullseye. Although was later told that the aim of the exercise was to have the shots in one cluster to show that you were consistent - mine were certainly not in a single cluster! We were also classified to ensure that we were classifiable. Scott and I both had similar level SCIs (spinal cord injuries) and were classified but the other girl who was there had an incomplete injury and was able to walk, so was (sadly for her) unclassifiable. It is an interesting system which is often discussed and debated, particularly between athletes, in lots of Paralympic sports. We were told we'd hear whether we had been selected in due course.

 
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Due to the Paralympics in Rio not long after, we were slightly put on the back burner and I didn't hear a thing for several months. Initially I looked through the post with anticipation each day in the hope of receiving a letter. I didn't hear anything so started to think I hadn't made the cut disappointingly. Then, on returning from the October camp in Hintertux, I got an email from the coach telling me I'd been accepted and invited to a training camp!

 
 

I went along last week. It was an interesting experience. The first day was spent learning how to pull the trigger. It is very refined and precise and even your breathing can affect where the pellet goes. We spent quite a lot of time pulling the trigger without any pellets and it wasn't until the second day when we were allowed pellets. It is almost meditative in how calm and focused you need to be. I really admired some of the team members who were able to sit and focus for extended periods. It turns out 15 minutes on the trot is my maximum before I need to wriggle a bit! 

 
 I learnt how precise shooting was - even breathing has an effect on where the pellet goes

I learnt how precise shooting was - even breathing has an effect on where the pellet goes

 

The coach spoke to Scott and I, saying that we had been selected for the Talent and Development Team and there was a four year plan to go to Tokyo for the 2020 Paralympics! I was very flattered by this and excited about the prospect of going to Tokyo. We were shown the calendar for training camps until spring next year. On seeing this I realised how difficult it would be to combine both shooting and skiing and went to bed mulling this over. I told the coach I was training with the British ski team as an invitational athlete and had aims to go to the winter games.

 
 Learnt a lot from the coaches and more experienced shooters on the training camp

Learnt a lot from the coaches and more experienced shooters on the training camp

 

The next day the coach and I spoke about this and he talked about the difficulties of participating in both sports. In the back of my mind I knew that skiing was definitely my priority and is much more 'up my street'. I've learnt that its better to do less to a higher standard than more, less well. That's not to say I'll be stopping waterskiing any time soon though!

Who knows though, I won't be skiing competitively forever, so maybe the summer games will be in my reach someday. I'd better work on my patience before then! 

Ski, work, ski some more

 
 

I’ve been back from the October camp in Hintertux, Austria for about a week which I’ve mainly spent in the Back Up office catching up on work. It’s been a productive week where I’ve spoken to lots of newly injured service users, referring many of whom to mentoring or courses. It’s often a difficult time after leaving hospital following injury but I remember well, the support I received from Back Up, and am glad to be helping provide some of that support. I’m always madly enthusiastic about some of the courses, namely the ski course I went on a year post injury, unfortunately, it’s mostly oversubscribed though so people aren’t always guaranteed a place. I’ll be out in Winter Park when the course participants come out next year (as I have been for the past couple of years) and it’s a great experience to watch them learn and grow, as well as often see a love of skiing unfold!

I had a brilliant time on the last camp. I was excited as I finished the September camp on a good note and was looking forward to see where I’d be after the next one. The first couple of days were a little sketchy with lots of fresh snow and low visability (something I’m not used to having been accustomed to the bluebird days of Colorado), but within a few days I was back on form.  We spent quite a lot of time out of gates and learning to be more progressive in my turns, not skidding, and carving the whole turn. I’m feeling happy with the way I’m skiing which does seem quite a long way from the way I was skiing at the end of last season.

 
 Nice to have a bit of chairlift time as a break from the t-bars!

Nice to have a bit of chairlift time as a break from the t-bars!

 

I want to say a huge thank you to those who supported me for this camp. I wore my new Sto Snow ski pants with so much pride. They are absolutely gorgeous – soft and furry on the inside, with a really flattering shape, perfectly fitting over my too-large ski boots. I’m a massive fan and really suggest anyone in need of a new pair take a look at their website: www.stosnow.com. Thanks to those who helped me fund it too – its very much appreciated.

 
 Showing off my swanky new Sto Snow ski pants!

Showing off my swanky new Sto Snow ski pants!

 

I am so grateful to the great coaches, particularly Dougie Mill, who is eternally patient (something I really lack!), an absolute expert skier, and great teacher. He really knows how to get the best from people, and has taught me so much. His advice is like gold dust! He’ll be the invitational athletes’ coach in Landgraaf next month which I’m really looking forward to, expecially with the IPCAS slalom race directly following the camp. I feel confident that he’ll prepare us well and I’ll put up a good fight in the race!

I’m still spending time on the lake while I can. It’ll be my last few weeks as I’m really not good at tolerating the cold. I remember waterskiing last autumn and having to come out of the lake onto the boat mid-set because I couldn’t cope with the cold. The coach & driver were worried I was getting hypothermia! It’s got to be said that at that stage I was spending a lot more time in the water than on it! That’s happily changed! My wetsuit has also changed, sensibly!

 
 My friend Henry loving a bit of waterskiing - up first time!

My friend Henry loving a bit of waterskiing - up first time!

 

Yesterday I took down some friends to the lake, having been banging on about how great it was so much. Two of them skied for the first time and both really got the hang of it which was really good to see. I think they’re definte converts. One also remarked on the atmosphere at Heron Lake; how welcoming everyone was and what a good vibe it has. That’s certainly something that keeps me coming back. I can’t wait till next summer to go down and hang out in the sunshine and get some more water-skiing done. I’m now skiing in the course and more consistently than ever getting round all the buoys – it’s a great feeling!

I’ll write again soon – I’ve got something exciting coming up in a couple of weeks so stay tuned to hear more!

Training in Tux & wakeboard (near) wins

 
 Mike, me and Heather getting 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in wakeboard and trick category  

Mike, me and Heather getting 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in wakeboard and trick category  

 

A little while ago I was entered into the Heron Lake Championships - the home of the BDWWA (British Disabled Waterski and Wakeboard Association) and the place where I spend a lot of my time. I entered both the waterski and wakeboard competition, the first being in the 'advanced' category which I wasn't so convinced about, particularly as it involved skiing through the slalom course which I hadn't done much of before. Still, I figured, you have to start somewhere! The day had a fantastic atmosphere and it was great to see lots of people who go down there, some more than others, and to have some healthy competition. 

As there were lots of people to fit it, we only had 20 seconds each to demonstrate what we could do on a wakeboard and only slightly longer on the ski. I was pleased with my performance on the ski through the course, even managing to go round some of the buoys on the outer course, something I'd not managed previously. I think it must have been the 'give it all you've got' for twenty seconds that helped me out. Although my competition were stronger than me, with some great performances by David Wise and Mark Roffey (who hasn't skied in a few years so was very impressive). 

On the wakeboard, having recently managed to perform a 360 much to my delight, after doing a few smaller tricks like side slides, touching the water and grabbing the board mid air (harder than you think, mind you!) I decided spontaneously to give it my all and try a 360, once I'd gone round 180 degrees, a trick that would surely bring me to victory if I got it right!

 
 180 degrees through a 360!

180 degrees through a 360!

 

My victory wasn't to be. I came off when trying to complete the spin and had to return to the dock in the 'boat of shame' as it's known. Not my proudest achievement. Still, my other tricks were good enough to give me second place and a very smart silver medal which I have hung proudly on my wall at home beside my Wings for Life finishers medal and another for a 10k I did a couple of years ago. With any luck it'll be accompanied my some IPCAS (International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing) medals before too long! I'm keeping up the waterskiing while the water isn't too baltic (won't be long!) and it's doing my snow skiing a lot of good too.

 
 

Since then, besides work, I've been in Hintertux in Austria for a ten day training camp with the British ParaSnowsport Development Team. I had an absolutely brilliant time and was fortunate enough to have some days training one-to-one with one of the coaches whilst my teammate took the days off. I was working of developing my technique and carving the ski rather than skidding (which is something I'm guilty of) and it was amazing to see the improvements that had been made by the end. 

 
 

The training hill was on a glacier which was over 3000 feet up. We accessed it via three bubble lifts which I went in in my wheelchair, and stored my monoski, conveniently at the top where I would transfer out of my wheelchair into my mono and head down to the T-bar lift. T-bars were the predominant lift here and although I'd never used one before in a sit ski and therefore was quite nervous (given my track record with button lifts! i.e. not great) it turns out that they were mostly fine (with only a couple of scary moments including falling into a crevasse when riding the lift with the coach!) 

 
 Beautiful view from the glacier

Beautiful view from the glacier

 

We skied in the mornings when the snow was best and before it got too soft and slushy, spending quite a lot of time working on technique whilst free skiing (not in gates) which I found really helpful and it gave me the opportunity to really work on getting rid of bad habits I've picked up like skidding the ski instead of carving properly. It was great to be taught by such a great coach with so much experience and expertise and I made some huge improvements throughout the week and by the end my skiing was looking much better and I was starting to carve more consistently. This will be great for racing as it'll mean I'm a lot faster as the ski will cut cleanly through and no speed will be scrubbed by skidding. Transferring this into skiing gates will be an interesting challenge!

 
 Celebrating a teammates birthday

Celebrating a teammates birthday

 

It was great to spend the week with the rest of the development team, they are a lovely bunch and are brilliant skiers who are all very supportive of the other team members and I really felt the team spirit. We laughed a hell of a lot during the camp, particularly at meal times when particular pranks and games were played, I'm not sure I've laughed as much in a long time! I can't wait until the slalom races at Landgraaf in November as it'll be lovely to be doing it as part of a team. 

 
 Walking to 'work'

Walking to 'work'

 

Each morning we'd have a 6am start with activation once we were dressed, breakfast and then (a beautiful and very green) walk to the bubble lift for 8am to get on first (the wheelchair card definitely helped here for skipping queues!). After a few hours of skiing we'd head back down one bubble for lunch, then back to the hotel for recovery. We'd have a couple of hours to ourselves in the afternoon, then video analysis followed by a team meeting then dinner. I found the video analysis really helpful and it was good to do it everyday and feed what I'd learnt into my skiing. During our free time we'd invariably be tuning skis - having been almost a total novice in this area, I'm learning a lot and getting lots of practice!

 
 Video analysis

Video analysis

 

We skied for three days with a day off after that during which we focused on strength and conditioning. For me, we focused on lats and core strength, as that's pretty key for monoskiing so I'm trying activate what minimal core strength I have! It was fun to explore what stretches and exercises were possible and helpful. I've been instructed to try lots of sports for strength and conditioning, especially canoeing/kayaking which is very good for an upper body work out. I'll have to find a club and I'll update when I've given it a go!

 Strength and conditioning circuits underground

Strength and conditioning circuits underground

I've been back for a couple of weeks during which I've been waterskiing as much as possible (aware that it's nearing winter by which time it'll be too cold to hit the lake), working lots in the office, and I went to a friends wedding at the weekend which was really lovely (and really nice to catch up with friends). I'm back to Hintertux again on Saturday morning for ten days and can't wait!

 
 

First taste of ski success!

 
 

A little while back I was invited to take part in a ski race alongside a day of training at Milton Keynes Snozone alongside my fellow GB Pathways teammates. I wasn't feeling on top form beforehand and had spent most of the week earlier in bed getting over a sore throat that wouldn't budge! I figured I may as well go down and at least get some practice runs in because it was going to be my last proper training day before heading off to Wittenberg, Germany for a British ParaSnowsports development training camp. So, popping the Paracetamol, I headed off to MK at the crack of dawn. I knew that I wanted to perform well so that I could go off to Germany feeling confident in my skiing. It was quite a long day, with the racing only starting at about 5pm! But with experience, I'm pretty self-aware about my limits and know that when I start to get tired, its time to break, or call it a day. We practiced slalom in the morning, then I took an extended break around lunchtime (with plenty of coffee, painkillers and energy snacks!) and hit the slopes again a little later few a few warm up runs where the course would be set. It was a shorter course that it usually would be in an IPC event so we took four runs rather than the usual two. I was pleased to have some good competition in Amber and Shona, particularly, as some classes didn't have as many competitors. 

 
 

I was quite cautious in my first run I too, particularly as the course was a bit rutted which tends to put me off a bit, but once I'd done it (and had heard my time) I knew that I needed to step it up a bit! It was great being able to find out our times at the end of each run so we could know how we were fairing and if we were improving each time. With each run I got faster, with the second one being as much as a few seconds faster, and the next two just marginally. Despite having never raced indoors (a pretty different kettle of fish!) I was happy enough with how I thought my performance but wasn't sure on where I'd place...

We finished up, had the mandatory cup of tea (still trying to ease that pesky sore throat!) and waited for the results to be ratified upstairs in the bar area. There were lots of competitors; on the ParaSnowsport side: visually impaired skiers & guides, sit-skiers, standing (all with both men & women's categories); and lots of able bodied competitors too. I knew I'd get a place because there were 3 competitors but wasn't sure where. When it was announced that I'd got first place I was pretty surprised. Both my competitors had put down some really good runs! But I was, of course, really pleased (as you can see from the huge smile on my face) and it has certainly boosted my confidence for Wittenberg. 

I leave for Wittenberg next Friday where I will spend a week training with the British ParaSnowsports Pathways and Development Team & coaches. It's in an indoor artificial slope but is far longer than the ones we have here in the UK. The focus will be on slalom, which although is not my favourite discipline (I much prefer getting a bit of speed up in GS), it'll be really beneficial as it's my weakest discipline too. I look forward to getting a whole lot of practice in and then hopefully being able to put down a decent race when it comes to it later in the year.

This camp will be the first of a few this year. The next will be in Hintertux in Austria in September where we'll be on a glacier. Following that, more training in Wittenberg, races in Landgraaf in Holland and then off to Winter Park again after Christmas for more races and lots of practice. It's looking to be a good and busy season!

 
 Me and my competitors, Shona Brownlee and Amber Meikle-Janney

Me and my competitors, Shona Brownlee and Amber Meikle-Janney

 

back to school & other adventures

Hello there! I've had a great few weeks, been very busy, but have really enjoyed doing all sorts. Starting a couple of weeks ago with a visit to the school of a six year old girl who has had a spinal cord injury and is now a wheelchair user. This is part of my volunteer role as Back Up School's Advocate which I was trained for last year. It was my first time being active in this role, having been away in America, but I was really excited to start out. 

I prepared a presentation in which I explained (in a light hearted way; suitable for their young age) about the spinal cord, how it can be injured and what the side effects can be. I wanted to get across that it can be very hard for all involved when it happens, but that life can still be lived to the fullest. After explaining the facts and using an activity to demonstrate a spinal cord injury, I told them my story, illustrated by pictures of some of my adventures. The children responded really well and asked some sensible and thoughtful questions despite only being in year one! The girl with the spinal cord injury struck me as very determined and I have little doubt that their injury will stop them getting where she wants to in life. 

I finished off the presentation by reading out a poem that one of my colleagues wrote when she was ten years old after she'd had a spinal cord injury. I really like it and think its pretty inspiring; particularly given how young she was. 

 Thanks to Ella Provan for letting me share her poem

Thanks to Ella Provan for letting me share her poem

I also went on the first Access Adventures waterski camp of the summer which was brilliant. There were a few people I knew that hadn't tried waterskiing before who came down and well and truly got the bug! It definitely has that effect on people and it was really inspiring to see how much people were enjoying it and making some good progress. I've now started wakeboarding which I am loving - my next challenge is to nail a 360!

 
 

I can't get enough of waterskiing and wakeboarding: it fuels my need for adrenaline, is very helpful for skiing, and I love hanging out by the lake - it's a nice break from busy London and there are some great people down there. Each time I come back buzzing - I've become a bona fide adrenaline junkie! I urge anyone who's interested (disabled or otherwise) to come and try it out! See bdwsa.org for more information

 
 

Alongside working and wakeboarding I've had a few training sessions up at Snozone in Milton Keynes with the Pathways team of ParaSnowsportGB. We've been practicing slalom because the run is too short to do anything longer and although I find it the most challenging due by my level of injury - T3/4, because my lack of core makes it harder to turn more quickly, I'm finding it really helpful and can't wait to get back on real snow to see a real improvement. On Saturday Sean Rose (Paralympian, TV pundit and all-round superstar) came to give us some coaching which was brilliant and really helpful. As well as being pretty inspiring to watch the speed with which he took the course!

 
 Slalom training at Snozone, Milton Keynes with Sean Rose

Slalom training at Snozone, Milton Keynes with Sean Rose

 

FInally, I have been talking to the coaching staff at British Parasnowsport and have some exciting news. I'm going to keep you in suspense as nothing's official yet but stay tuned and I'll update when it is. ;-)

Wings for Life World Run

A few weeks ago me and some friends took part in an amazing event called the Wings for Life World Run. Wings for Life is a charity that was started up by the founder of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz and his close friend and two-time motocross world champion, Heinz Kinigadner who's son was involved in a motorcycle accident which left him tetraplegic. 

On realising that research into finding a cure for spinal cord injury is underfunded due to the relatively small number of people who sustain such injuries, but that finding a cure is a realistic possibility due to the research that has been done so far; the two set up the Wings for Life research foundation, with the aim of finding a cure for spinal cord injury. The foundation remains the sole charity supported by Red Bull.

The Wings for Life World Run is an event that takes place all over the world in 34 locations, including Australia, Japan, Brazil and Russia, all starting at the same time (12pm in the UK happily for us!). 30 minutes after the runners start, the Catcher Car sets off at 15km/hour, getting faster each hour. If the catcher car catches up with you you have to stop.

This year 130,732 runners took part, raising over £5million to go towards finding a cure for spinal cord injury! 

I took part with three friends and I knew quite a lot of others taking part in wheelchairs too, not surprising really, given the cause. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing, throughout the whole run there were supporters on the side lines cheering us on, spraying us with water (it got up to 27 degrees that day!) and giving us drinks. It was such a support having people shouting our names the whole way and made the hot weather all the more bearable. 

Whilst on the run I caught up with my friend Laurie and we pushed together for a while before we were caught by the catcher car which was being driven by David Coulthard! So although I was pretty gutted not to have got further before getting caught it was a good consolation to have got a high five from him!

The event was an awesome thing to be part of and we all vowed that we'll do it again next year. It is such a fantastic charity and great cause - I'm pretty determined to raise as much as possible next year as well as getting a bit further before being caught by the car. It was a little spontaneous this year so I didn't have many practice runs but next year, helped by my ski training, I'd like to try and hit the half marathon mark! Watch this space!

 
 

Goodbye London, Hello Colorado!

 
me leaving for CO.jpeg
 

As I write this I am on the plane from London to Denver I am feeling pretty jammy as I managed to get an upgrade to business class (thanks British Airways!). As it’s a 10 hour flight it is a very welcome relief and is much more comfortable. I didn’t get the menu, but I think they gave me the one up from economy, which tasted fine.  I’m pretty used to long-haul flights now so I know what to expect and what I’ll need on board, etc. I see it as a nice time to get away from social media, emails and my phone and to watch some movies, read a book and now; do some writing.

Last season (2014/15) I spent the winter in Winter Park, Colorado (winterparkresort.com) with the view to becoming an independent and confident sit-skier. I spent several months skiing the mountain with an instructor in order to get my skiing up to scratch. I was determined not to start race training before I was completely confident in my skiing ability. Once I started training with the other athletes at the NSCD (National Sports Center for the Disabled; nscd.org) I totally got the 'bug' for skiing gates. It is far from easy but I think that is part of the reason it's so exhilarating when you get it right! I am now returning to Winter Park for the season because I want to take my skiing to the next level and start racing. Here, I will be able to ski nearly every day, and this will give me the best chance of significantly improving my skiing. 


This season I am going to be documenting my experiences more than just on Instagram and Facebook. Last season was definitely a journey and this time I want to share it.

 
 Descending Mount Snowdon with Team Tangled at the Back Up Snowdon Push 2015

Descending Mount Snowdon with Team Tangled at the Back Up Snowdon Push 2015

 


I had a great summer, I came back from my season to go straight into school (which was a bit of a shock to the system!) to finish off my teacher training which, gladly, I successfully completed. Following that I had a busy summer, starting with climbing Mount Snowdon with a team of about 12 in the Back Up Push, a fundraising event for a charity very close to my heart, who support people with spinal cord injuries. It was an amazing experience and I was so proud of our team for completing it in an incredible time and coming second out of 13 teams (not a race?! No chance!), and contributing to a massive total raised for Back Up (backuptrust.org.uk).

 
 Waterskiing at Heron Lake

Waterskiing at Heron Lake

 


Over the summer I did quite a bit of water skiing, starting with a couple of camps with Access Adventures (accessadventures.co.uk), which were a lot of fun. After getting the hang of it I went to Heron Lake (bdwsa.org) quite regularly which meant that I was able to make some good progress! By the end I was skiing in the slalom course which I also found really helpful for my skiing. Once the winter is over I will definitely pick up the water skiing again and see where it takes me.


I kept skiing over the summer at The Snow Centre (thesnowcentre.com) in Hemel Hempstead which, although is a very different scene from the snowy climbs of Colorado, (a very short run, button lift, artificial snow), should mean that I will be able to pick up from more or less where I left my skiing in April which will be good.

Hemel Hempstead isn’t the only unlikely place I’ve skied recently. Last month I went out to Landgraaf in Holland to get classified and also to train with the GB team. It was a long drive, which is, as I am learning, part and parcel of ski racing. Being classified was an interesting experience where my balance and core strength was tested through different ways, including, a very wobbly balance board! As the level of my injury is T3/4 (which is at chest level) my balance isn’t very good and I don’t have much core and this was confirmed when they were unable to identify any working stomach muscles when asking me to attempt sit up style exercises. The balance board was an interesting experience as I was unable to perform many of the tasks, despite my best efforts! They asked me to leave the room while they discussed my classification and, when I returned, they informed me that I would be classified as LW10-1 which is the highest level of impairment for sit-skiing. I am pleased with the result and it should provide me with a level playing field in races.

Whilst in Landgraaf I met with the coaching staff and team who were friendly and welcoming. The following two days were spent training which meant early starts (5.30am alarm for ‘activation’ at 6.30am – this was a warm up to ‘activate’ the body and prepare it so that breakfast could be used as fuel more effectively) and onto snow at 8am. This took place at Snowworld (snowworld.com) which has a 500m long run and a chairlift – a welcome break from Hemel Hempstead! It was great having 500m to practice on as it gave us a chance to get more turns in and therefore more practice. The run was quite shallow but the snow was groomed and the conditions were okay, particularly early on, and I was happy with my skiing during training with the coach. We skied for about four hours, starting with some warm up runs, then doing drills and eventually working on making smaller turns.

 photo credit: zoover.com

photo credit: zoover.com

There was a slalom course set up for a race the following day, which I had a go in too. I managed it okay but slalom tends to be a bit of a nemesis for skiers with higher-level injuries because you have to make much quicker and shorter turns than in other disciplines and this is difficult without use of the core (and I am no exception). I also haven’t had much experience skiing slalom yet but this season I should make some good progress.

 View from my condo in Winter Park

View from my condo in Winter Park


So I’ve got 1hr 23 to go till I land where it’ll be 7 hours behind the UK. I’ll get picked up at Denver airport by one of the coaches who’ll take me to my condo in Winter Park town which I’m renting for the season. I’ll make a stab at unpacking and probably fall into bed before long!

Update 6.12.15: I've now arrived at Winter Park. Above is my view each morning from outside my condo (on the right). The photo doesn't really do it justice but it's awesome to be able to see the mountains when I go outside each day.

I've been out skiing twice now and am pretty happy with my standard given that I haven't skied on proper snow since April. I'll get a video up here soon. There's been quite a bit of snow too (26 inches at the base; see winterparkresort.com/the-mountain/snow-weather-report.aspx for the weather report) and it looks like more is on the way which hopefully means it'll be a good season.