Tignes Grande Motte Glacier France; Adaptive Ski Racers In Training

A great day on the glacier with the British Adaptive Ski Team, three of whose number were training hard for next year's Paralympics...

[click on the thumbnail images to see the large scale photos]

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training
An eye-opener of a day up on the Tignes glacier on November 8th, spent with the British Adaptive Ski Team. I'd seen some impressive skiing by these guys before, but the skills really do have to be witnessed to be believed. Those of you who think they could keep up with some of the sit-skiers or stand-ups on an icy giant slalom course... well I would guess a surprising number of you would have your work cut out, and most would fail miserably!

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training
It's not just skill, it's attitude. Attitude they've got in no small measure, because what they've faced up to would make most of us want to crawl into a small hole, and give up the ghost. Just the trials and tribulations of ski racing are enough to put a large number of good 'able-bodied' skiers off - there's the pain and the cold to cope with, the lugging of huge amounts of equipment around, the incredible patience needed, the wearing of what seems like lumps of iron on your feet all day, the disappointments, huge demands on fitness and strength... in fact everything's geared to making you wonder why you didn't take up table tennis instead...

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training
So just imagine having to do all of that and be partially sighted, or paraplegic, or an amputee. As soon as you arrive at Tignes you're faced with 15 steps just to get into the ticket office at Val Claret. Then 15 to get back down again. Then 15 to get up to the entrance to the funicular. More to get to the train itself. Then 15 to climb down from the Panoramic Restaurant, 15 back up to the cable car.... you get my drift...

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training
That day on the glacier two team members had some massive crashes, ironically free skiing at the time. One broken collar bone, one severe concussion. The girl with the concussion was almost in tears. Not because she was hurt, oh no. But because she knew she would miss out on at least that day's training...

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training
So yes, it was a real eye-opener. As were the interviews (see below) a couple of days later, after another session training on the glacier. Hats off to the BAST team and all those others training right now around the world for the Paralympics. Contact Disability Snowsports for more information if you would like to donate to a very deserving cause...

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training

The Paralympics - Russell Docker interview:

38 year old Russell Docker was a keen recreational skier until his accident in 1995. Skiing in France, he broke his back in two places in a fall, damaging his spinal chord. 10 months in Salisbury Spinal Unit followed, where he was told he would never walk again or be able to practice the sports he had enjoyed previously. He left hospital an incomplete paraplegic. Russell refused to accept this. Determined to get back onto the snow, he taught himself the skills of monoskiing, then found out about the British adaptive skiers' race team while at a ski show. Invited out to France to ski with the team, he hasn't looked back since. In his own words "I knew that I had found a sport that I could be competitive in and push myself to see how far I could go. That was 6 years ago and I’m still improving and am just as competitive but with a bigger desire to win races...."

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training

Russell Docker's success, leading to his first Europa Cup victory last year in Super G, is partly down to single-minded determination, that much is clear. Following the team meeting to round off last week's training in Tignes he warned his fellow athletes that they were there as a team to race and train, that it was a serious business and taking part in any apres ski 'relaxation' on the last night should be tempered by the awareness that they were there in *BAST (British Adaptive Ski Team) colours, and had to behave accordingly. This approach matched his attitude on the snow over the course of the week. Watching him gate training, day in day out, his concentration was total.

To come back from such a life-changing injury reveals bravery, toughness and resolve. To start from scratch and fight back to world class level in a sport, achieving skills on snow that would leave the great majority of able-bodied skiers in his wake, is nothing short of amazing. To do so while living hand to mouth in a sport suffering from a severe lack of funding, with no prospect of personal financial gain, reveals true mettle.

MySnowSports' Peter Garwood was up in Tignes during the training week, and chatted to Russell after the final team briefing...

PG: How do you fund your training?

RD: Up until now I’ve pretty much fundraised 99.9% myself, but this year I’m on a performance plan which will cover most costs this season. This is based on results – whether that will go on will be down to results, but obviously over the last six years results have crept up and up and hopefully I’ve got to the stage when they’ll start supporting me more.

PG: Has the support come because it’s the year of the Paralympics?

RD: No, it’s mainly down to skiing performance full stop, last year I had a handful of top tens in World Cup races and and then had my first win last year in the Europa Cup finals super G. So with that and all my statistics showing consistent improvement over the years I’ve shown I’m a medal contender which is what they want for the Paralympics.

PG: How do you get around Europe?

RD: I’ve got a camper van which is the way I’ve done it for the last four or five years, I guess it does save me a lot of money but it’s all about feeling relaxed and I just like being in the van, some of the hotels can be an hour or more from the races.

PG: What are your training plans from now on?

RD: From here I go straight to Stubai, training with the British Army, the Engineers, they have a five week training camp which I’ll take part in for three and a half weeks, which will take us into our first European race in Pitztal. Then Jane comes out, we’ve got a week’s training with her before the races, then after another week’s training before the second Europa Cup which is in Abtenau near Salzburg, and that takes us up to Christmas. A couple of weeks off, just to catch up with the family, have a bit of R and R. Then it’s quite intense – I think we’ve got a media day to get the team on show for Turin, on the 12th and 13th, then I drive straight back down to Villars to participate in the 24 hour endurance race with the team, there’s good media for us there and it’s part of the “Road to Turin”…

PG: What is the **Villars event?

RD: It’s organized by Jacques Villeneuve and another Formula 1 guy, they fundraise for charities each year, it’s for teams of six, racing from midday to midday, Saturday to Sunday. I shall only do part of the race, it does get quite intense and obviously at that time of year you’ve got to be very careful with injuries… you’re racing side by side, something you don’t normally do in Alpine skiing. It’s good though, to test the skis, dial in equipment… Then I go straight down following the Army race circuit, I’m going to the Army Divs, the Army Championships, and then the Inter Services races. One thing we lack is speed training, and that’s where my strength is and the Army races should give me three Downhills with two to three training runs for each one, maybe nine Downhill runs, and that’s worth its weight in gold…

PG: “Literally, you hope?!… The Paralympics?

RD: Definitely! March 10th to 19th

PG: Which disciplines?

RD: All four – all three in the team are doing all four… starting with maybe my weakest one, then GS, Super G and Downhill, with the speed events being my strongest…

PG: How was your form this week in Tignes?

RD: Felt really good, consistent, I’m where I want to be at this time of year, fitness is good, I’ve got some new equipment that I’ve dialed straight into, so I’m happy, I think for the beginning of the season no mishaps, no training accidents, a great start…

PG: Were you out in the summer?

RD: No I did two weeks previous to here at Hintertux, the first two weeks of October, my first two weeks on the snow, training with a few other able-bodied teams out there, so now I’ve done four good weeks to prepare for the season…

PG: Any hot prospects coming through in the team?

RD: Sure! Tim who’s just been pulled onto the team, he’s on his third week’s skiing, fantastic effort, he’s obviously got an eye for it, if he can keep the learning curve going next season we’ll have to watch our backs! He’s keen, and hopefully if he can get the time on the snow he’ll be one to look for in the future. Great to have someone that strong so early.

PG: How do you like Tignes?

RD: I love coming here at this time of year. It’s something I’ve done for six, seven years now, and I always try to get here during the season if I can, maybe just two or three days free skiing around the mountain, I just love the area, I can walk with the aid of crutches so accessibility is quite good for Europe… Ready to move on though, I walked up and down that funicular too many times now! I ready to go somewhere and get straight on the chairlift! No it’s been good, conditions have been perfect, the weather’s been good to us, the forecast’s not so great for next week though…

PG: How much does it cost you each year?

RD: Up until now, up to £7,000, which with the camper van is quite cheap… doing everything on a budget, cheap ferries, but even that can easily change by a couple of thousand, if you break your skis. I’ve invested in new skis for two and a half thousand, to take me up to Turin, but you never know, touch wood there won’t be a problem. And then there’s getting hold of equipment, you have to think six or seven months ahead to get factory skis, you can’t just walk into the shop for a new pair. Anyway, hope I’ve got the right equipment and it’ll last until March!

From Tignes Grande Motte, B.A.S.T. in training

MySnowSports wishes Russell, and all the BAST team, every success during the coming season, and the best of luck for the Paralympics...

* BAST - (website) DONATIONS - to aid athletes can be sent to: British Adaptive Ski Team, c/o The Uphill Ski Club, Ski Rossendale, Haslingden Old Rd, Rawtenstall, Rossendale, BB4 8RR or email gary@uphillskiclub.co.uk for more info. Anything at all is much appreciated...........

Disability Snowsport, ‘THE SKIER’S CHARITY’, (website) is a key charitable beneficiary of the Villars race. A charity based in the U K providing opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in skiing and snowboarding, with activities taking place in the UK, mainland Europe and in North America.

It describes itself as "unique in that we work with all ages and all disabilities using specially trained instructors, volunteers, and using adapted equipment to give everyone the chance to experience the thrill and excitement of these wonderful sports. We believe that anyone with some degree of mobility can ski using specially trained instructors and equipment.

Fun, laughter, achievement, greater mobility, increased self confidence, improved co-ordination and being able to enjoy the mountains alongside the able bodied are just some of the benefits of our work. We believe that the sport of skiing enables those with a disability to take part as equals.

The pleasure of seeing the smile on the face of a young person as they whizz down the ski slopes in a sit ski laughing and experiencing the rush of the wind and the sense of speed makes our work worthwhile. You can’t get an adrenaline buzz from pushing a wheelchair.

For nearly 30 years we have applied exceptional know-how and adaptability to enable those with a disability to experience the joy of skiing. We have worked with ski schools throughout Europe to provide training and support so that more resorts can cater for people with disabilities and gain from our expertise.

We rely totally on donations and fundraising activities to continue our work. The funds from the GP24heures event will be used to develop adaptive skiing facilities and programs in Villars."

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