Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

(Written by James) - My skiing started at the tender age of 3 on family ski trips, skiing the same way as most people do on 2 skis with poles. As I got older skiing got harder but, as I had no idea that I was disabled, we did not know why. I was also very poor at sports at school and would walk slowly, which was taken as me being non-sporty and maybe also a bit lazy. Things came to a head on a ski trip to Val d’Isere in the French Alps, when I fell on a ski run and was unable to get up, Despite my Dad being a good skier, he could not get me back on my feet so I was taken down the mountain in the “blood wagon” by the ski patrol. This led to my parents realising that something was very wrong, so they took me to see a doctor at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London and he spotted the problem immediately.

The diagnosis was that I had Becker Muscular Dystrophy. This was very hard at first. How does an 11-year deal with being disabled and knowing that it will lead to weak muscles, which will get weaker and weaker? My mum did look into disabled skiing for me, but I totally dismissed it - I was not interested. But as I got older and came to terms with my disability, I decided that I wanted to ski again. They tried me stand skiing again but that did not work, so I began sit-skiing. Over the next few years I was skiing once a year, until 4 years ago when I was skiing in the US and met the British Disabled Ski Team Development Officer who suggested I try racing.

The following year, I left my job and headed out to Winter Park to ski with the NSCD (National Sports Center for the Disabled) Alpine Ski Team. It took some time before I got to the level of the training course, but once I got up to it, it was great! The season ended on a high with me winning a Giant Slalom race, and then doing my first 2 Super Giant Slalom races - both which I crashed out of, but they where super fast and fun! Some of my most interesting days were free skiing with the Team as nothing pushes you like skiing with some of the best disabled skiers in the world. I can remember going up to the bowl in winter park and going full speed, without knowing whether the trees at the bottom would lead to open runs - they didn’t! So I had to turn like never before in order to stay in the 4-foot channel in between the trees.

After some off-season training in New Zealand, I then went back out to Winter Park for my first full season! For the most part, being a racer is full of routine - most days follow a pattern of morning and afternoon running gates for about 2 hours each, with video and timing in order to play around with things and work on technique in order to get better direction and momentum. The team in Winter Park is full of interesting stories - a guy from Brooklyn NY who had his leg blown off in a drive by shooting - to a Serbian Muslim who had to flee from the former Yugoslavian Civil War, only to be unlucky enough to get run-over in the US. Last year I met former US President Carter, whose wife is a patron of the Center and he came round and shook hands with us all.

Anyway, the early races did not go too well for me with a disqualification and a few crashes. However I managed to “get things together” and win the same Giant Slalom race I won the year before, and was able to get some good solid finishes at the end of the season. I entered my first downhill race, which meant going up to about 60 miles an hour, and you just have to hang on for the ride - after my run I was shaking with adrenaline.

After a summer working, I have now returned for my 3rd year, which has been going well although my sit-ski has become somewhat worn out, and my new sit-ski, which is on order, has not come as soon as I would have hoped. So I have been unable to race and it has made training somewhat tricky but it is going well considering these difficulties. I have also been teaching 2 days a week on the recreational side of the NSCD, and it has been great to put something back into skiing by helping others learn and improve in the sport. It is also very helpful to go back to basics to keep my skiing technique good. I am looking forward to getting my new sit-ski and ripping it up in the end of season races.

Needless to say, when you ski sitting down in Colorado, it can be pretty cold so I have been really pleased to have the opportunity to trial some of Finisterre’s great gear. It has been brilliant!