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!

 
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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.

 

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

 

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!