This year has been pivotal for disability snowsports in the UK. Participation in the Winter Paralympics has doubled since the Sochi Games in 2014… now that is something to celebrate!
The British paralympians dominated the Winter Paralympics this year, and many medals were won by our athletes in 2018. Millie Knight went home with a silver medal for her incredible performance in the visually impaired downhill event, gliding down the slopes behind her guide Brett Wild.
ParalympicsGB also has its very first snowboarding team. Among them was runner-up in 2017’s world championships Owen Pick, who lost his right leg below the knee after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. After seeing these athletes achieve such greatness, disabled athletes are looking to branch into even more disciplines no matter what their disability may be!
One athlete trying to achieve just that is 37 year old Marc Francis. He was involved in a car crash two weeks prior to his 18th birthday, which paralysed Marc from the chest down. At present, there is no snowboarding category for anyone with this level of disability, and those with severe impairments have fewer options of Paralympic sports they can compete in.
However, Marc wants to break down these barriers as he says “the Paralympics are a huge inspiration, what all of the athletes have managed to achieve is simply extraordinary. We shouldn’t believe in the word ‘can’t’ anymore.
Marc had tried to take part in sit-skiing - facing forwards in a chair attached to a single or double ski - before trying out snowboarding. But this proved incredibly difficult as his left side is much weaker than his right and it made steering extremely difficult.
Instead of giving up entirely, Marc searched for a new invention that could help him get back on the slopes. And low and behold, in 2016 he found an adaptive snowboard with a seat and handlebars. The Prodaptive snowboard, designed by by Dutch freelance industrial designer Gina van der Werf, allows Marc to snowboard with ease!
Marc has been able to achieve so much with help from his instructor, James Sterry. “Everything that James has put up with, all the blood, sweat and tears, to get me to this point. he’s been absolutely amazing and I can’t thank him enough for what he has helped me achieve.”
James is a ski school manager for Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK), the largest charity in Britain helping disabled people on to the slopes, whether they have visual impairments, spina bifida, a learning disability or paralysis. DSUK runs British Parasnowsport, the governing body for disabled snowsports. At the moment, James leads a team teaching people with an enormous range of impairments at Hemel Hempstead.
Marc wants to able to show everyone that snowboarding with paralysis can be done, and it should be made into a new Paralympic category, he even wants to be able to achieve acrobatic jumps!
James also shares Marc’s ambition as he said “the Paralympics is just the beginning of something incredible, since Sochi there has been a huge rise in adaptive snowsports and we want this trajectory to continue.
“The number of lessons DSUK’s given to the winter Paralympians nearly doubled since 2014, going from 2,116 to 4,052. Channel 4’s coverage of the apres-ski bar at Hemel Hempstead has also played a part in the increase of people with disabilities taking up new snowsports.
“London 2012 was the catalyst for showing sports for people with disabilities more generally, and then you had 2014, which was really well publicised. It helps thousands of people realise that snowsports are an option for them too and they are not limited to what they can achieve.”
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