Back from injury in the nick of time for the Winter Paralympics
By Jane Sowerby
So, it’s official – I’ve been selected to represent Great Britain at the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver! Everything I’ve worked so hard for over the last few years has been recognised. I’ve achieved my goal of making the GB Paralympic Team.
However, due to injury, preparation this season hasn’t been ideal. It started off well; myself and two others drove out to Austria in my S-MAX, complete with brand new winter tyres and roof box. We managed to fit in eight pairs of skis, two sit skis, two wheelchairs, three big bags, tools, tech gear, gym paraphernalia, snow chains and anything else we thought might be remotely useful. We drove through the night with only a couple of fuel stops, arriving in Hintertux about 11am. After unloading the car we headed straight up the hill for our much-needed ski fix. Then followed five days of the most glorious weather and perfect snow conditions.
Most of the rest of the team arrived the following weekend, as did the bad weather! However, the bad weather brought lots of snow, and so followed a couple of ecstatic powder days.
Then, the serious stuff began. Over the two-week team camp we had some excellent training with our Coach, new Assistant Coach, Team Manager, Physio, Sports Psychologist, Strength & Conditioning Coach, Ski Technician, British Paralympics Association representatives and ever-faithful buddies on board. I think there were more able-bodied staff than athletes at times! The aim was to have all the support staff that will be out in Vancouver for the Paralympics, to make sure that by then we’re a well-oiled team.
The conditions weren’t exactly perfect, as is to be expected in pre-season Hintertux. It was on one of the low visibility days towards the end of the camp that I sustained my injury – falling and breaking my collarbone. I want to say a huge thanks to everyone for getting me off the mountain, and assisting me in the days following. It’s not until something like this happens that you realise how essential two arms are when your legs don’t work and your balance is rubbish! I am completely overwhelmed by how amazing people can be when you really need them.
There then followed six frustrating weeks waiting for the fracture to heal, stuck in the non-mountainous resort of Bedfordshire. I worked closely with our Sports Psychologist on some visualisation and imagery work to try and make up for the training I was missing out on.
Straight after Christmas I flew out to Winter Park, Colorado to train with the excellent NSCD Alpine Ski Team. January out there was a tough one for me – I struggled to come back after my collarbone fracture, had lost all my confidence and couldn’t seem to get the fear of breaking the bone again out of my head. Unfortunately, my fear became a reality. Whilst forerunning an able-bodied Super G race I lost my edge on the steepest pitch and landed hard on my already weak shoulder. I initially thought all my dreams had been shattered along with my collarbone. However, after some solid medical advice I decided not to give up and that the Paralympics were still possible. I flew back to the UK, went straight from the airport to the hospital and had a metal plate put over my collarbone, meaning the recovery time can be reduced to as little as four weeks. So I can still make it, just! The phrase ‘cutting it fine’ has never been more apt!
This season is my most important one to date, and hasn’t quite worked out as planned. With so much time away from training due to injury, I haven’t been able to improve my performance as hoped. I’ve never been more aware of how psychological ski racing is; your state of mind really does determine how well you ski. I’ve learnt some valuable lessons and know that it will make me stronger in the long run. I’m so grateful to still have the opportunity to represent my country at the games; it’s going to be such an incredible experience. It will be tough to achieve the level of skiing I want in time, but I have longer-term goals that stretch beyond the 2010 Paralympics: this is an essential and exciting stepping stone to get me there.