Winter Paralympics athletes excited for the opportunity to compete

Tags Health and Wellbeing

Posted 2 months ago by Anna Christian

Australia's Winter Paralympic team, from top left; Rae Anderson, Patrick Jensen, Sam Tait, bottom row from left; Melissa Perrine, Mitchell Gourley, Ben Tudhope, Josh Hanlon. [Source: Supplied]
Australia's Winter Paralympic team, from top left; Rae Anderson, Patrick Jensen, Sam Tait, bottom row from left; Melissa Perrine, Mitchell Gourley, Ben Tudhope, Josh Hanlon. [Source: Supplied]

The Beijing Winter Paralympics kicks off with its opening ceremony today.

Seven Australian athletes and two sighted guides will be competing in two sports over the course of the games - Para-alpine skiing and Para-snowboard.

Competitive events for the games start on Saturday, March 5, and finish on March 13.

Australia’s team includes the seventh dual Summer and Winter Paralympian Rae Anderson, debutant Josh Hanlon, and Para-snowboarder Ben Tudhope - who set the record of Australia’s youngest Winter Paralympian when he competed in the Sochi 2014 games at the age of 14.

Ms Anderson says competing at the Games is a surreal experience after a few tough years.

“Since I started training again in 2019 for Alpine Skiing there has been not only financial barriers but physical and psychological barriers too,” she says.

“Through skiing this year, I’ve learnt more about my cerebral palsy and how to work to get the best performance physically.

“Through this I learnt more about my mental strength. I learnt of my [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] PTSD that was holding me back personally and as an athlete. I worked closely with my team back home to overcome it and the associated depression and anxiety to become the strongest I’ve ever been, both physically and mentally, for these Games."

Mr Hanlon, first-time Paralympic Alpine Skiier, shared his excitement about making it this far and competing in the Games, saying he can’t wait to “send it down to make all of Australia proud”.

“From the first day I learnt to sit-ski I've dreamt of making it all the way to the Paralympic Games. The road to getting there hasn't been without its obstacles, a broken back six months ago and of course COVID-19,” he says.

“At the Games, I hope to continue to cut the times between myself and leaders. I hope to perform at my full potential and show the world what I'm made of!”

Mr Tudhope says it’s just as exciting to compete in the 2022 Games for Para-snowboard as it was competing as a 14-year-old in 2014.

“For Beijing, I feel more fortunate than ever. I know many people don’t get the opportunity to do what they love and also for the Games to be going ahead in the current world situation,” he says.

“Australia has a rich history of amazing Paralympians, but the support from the Aussie mob is what sets us apart from other nations. I’m always proud to put on the Aussie uniform to connect with those who paved the way.”

The record number of viewers who tuned in for the recent Summer Paralympic Games is a promising sign for what the Winter Paralympics has in store, says Mr Tudhope.

“My biggest goal for Beijing is to showcase our sport,” says Mr Tudhope.

“The Paralympics should be massive. Having no spectators will be a change, but all Games bring their own challenges.

“The increase in public and media attention of the Paralympic movement is already a massive achievement in my eyes. The Aussie team knows we have the most support ever going into these Games and that definitely lifts all of our spirits and motivates us to perform at the highest level.”

Aside from being grateful to have the opportunity to transition from competing in athletics at the Summer Paralympics to skiing at the Winter Paralympics, Ms Anderson also hopes the Beijing Games will give her a platform to inspire others alongside the Australian team.

“As media, awareness and support for this sport grows, I hope to motivate other athletes, especially female athletes and those with invisible disabilities, that this is a sport you can love and excel in too,” she explains.

Australia has participated at every Winter Paralympic Games since they began in 1976, although in the inaugural year Australia’s representative, Ron Finneran, skied as a forerunner in events rather than competing, as there was no category for his disability.

Over the years, Australian athletes have won 34 medals at the Winter Paralympics, including 12 gold medals.