Wednesday, 23 February 2022 17:34

XIII Paralympic Winter Games

Pope Francis has sent warm greetings and good wishes to all participants and organisers at the Paralympic Winter Games.
“I embrace with a special thought the whole Paralympic world: we will win the most important medal together, if the example of athletes with disabilities helps everyone to overcome prejudices and fears, and to make our communities more welcoming and inclusive. This is the real gold medal!”

“Sport, with its universal language, can build bridges of friendship and solidarity between individuals and peoples of all cultures and religions.”

“I wish the Paralympic family a unique experience of human brotherhood and peace: blessed are the peacemakers!”

Beijing, China is the first city ever to host both Summer and Winter Paralympics. On Friday, March 4, 2022 the Opening Ceremony will be in the National Stadium. The emblem for 2022 Winter Paralympics is “Flying High” – a multi-coloured ribbon resembling the Chinese character for ‘fly’.

Paralympics Australia was proud to announce a Team of ten athletes for the Beijing Games. These ten athletes have shown remarkable resilience and determination to remain at the elite level throughout the challenges of the past two years. Limited training and competition opportunities, cancelled camps, lockdowns and border restrictions are among the numerous obstacles they faced before relocating to the northern hemisphere, away from their families and friends. Kate McLoughlin will lead the Paralympic Winter Team as she did for our team at the Summer Games in Tokyo.

Melissa Perrine and Mitchell Gourley are the most experienced members of the Team, this being their fourth Games. We have six male athletes, two female athletes and two female sighted guides. The youngest member of the Team is Para-snowboarder, Ben Tudhope 22, who debuted at the Sochi Games when he was 14. He is the only snowboarder in the Team; all of Australia’s other representatives will compete in Para-Alpine Skiing.

After having a very successful time at the recent World Cup events in Sweden, Ben’s goal now is to win Gold in Beijing. He missed a Bronze medal by two seconds at the Pyeong Chang Games in 2018. He will be competing in a neighbouring Hebei province, about 220 km from the city and 50 minutes by the railway line specifically built for the Games.

Ben trained at Perisher and loves all sorts of boarding – surfing, skateboarding, paddleboard and wakeboarding. He has lived with cerebral palsy since birth and was the flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony for the Paralympic Games in Sochi, 2014. Snowboarding involves descending a snow-covered slope while standing on a snowboard that is almost always attached to the rider’s feet. Injury rates for snowboarders remain higher than for skiers.

Racing down the slopes at speeds of 100 km/h, sometimes without sight – few sports deliver the same thrills and spills as Para-Alpine Skiing. The other nine Aussie athletes will be competing in the Yanqing district at the Xiaohaituo Alpine Skiing Field, about 80 km from the city centre. There are 30 medal events, all open for men or women, with sitting, standing and visually impaired sections within the following events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined.

Melissa Perrine: After winning two Bronze medals in Pyeong Chang 2018, Melissa’s goal is to win a Gold medal. Because of her vision impairment, in the lead-up to Beijing 2022 she has been working with a new sighted guide, Bobbi Kelly. Melissa has completed a Master of Physiotherapy, Bachelor of Exercise Science, Master of Exercise and Sports Science. She credits her parents’ unwavering support for her success on the slopes. Melissa will compete in five disciplines.

Bobbi Kelly: While training with Melissa, as her sighted guide, the pair has had a stand-out season in 2019 at the World Championships. Bobbi enjoys mountain biking and kicking the footy when away from the snow.

Mitchell Gourley: Mitchell has had a lot of success in World Cup Series and Championships. He was co-captain of the Team in 2018, but had a run of bad luck when competing and came home without a medal. Mitchell was born with below-elbow limb deficiency in his left arm. He has completed a Master of Business (Sports Management) and Bachelor of Commerce. Mitchell trained at Thredbo and also enjoys cycling, climbing and doing crosswords.

Rae Anderson: Rae came fifth in the Javelin F37 at Rio 2016 Summer Paralympics and has successfully transitioned between seasonal sports at the elite level. She has lived with cerebral palsy from birth and wants to assist at Westmead Children’s Hospital with those who have helped her.

Josh Hanlon: Josh, a former Greater Western Giants Academy footballer in U19s, will make his Paralympic debut at Beijing. At 20, a severe bacterial infection which included toxic shock and sepsis caused his amputations. After three months in hospital, he was walking strongly on his prosthetic legs. His right hand was amputated, also. Josh enjoys motorbike riding and shooting. He is studying Certificates III and IV in physical fitness and feels passionate about helping kids with disabilities to become involved in sport.

Sam Tait: When 22, Sam broke his T11 vertebrae in a motorcycle accident. Being an experienced skier – his parents owned a Lodge on Perisher – he fell in love with sit-skiing after his intensive rehabilitation. He feels motivated by his hero, three-time Paralympic gold-medallist, Kurt Fearnley.

Jonty O’Callaghan: Jonty was born with cerebral palsy affecting his right side. He set his sights on competing at the Paralympic Games after relocating to Switzerland in primary school, when his parents enrolled him in snow sports. He is a diehard Geelong Cats fan and enjoys learning about World Wars I and II.

Patrick Jensen: Patrick has Amelia Hodgson as his sighted guide. He started skiing at a Disabled Wintersport Australia Camp in 2013 and soon made a name for himself. He and Amelia are working to consolidate their recent successes when they get to Beijing. Patrick was diagnosed with macular dystrophy and Stargardt disease when he was seven. He is currently studying massage therapy and now enjoys surfing, skateboarding, playing drums and guitar.

Amelia Hodgson: Amelia grew up ski-racing, became a ski instructor and then a coach. Working as a sighted guide with Patrick since 2019, the pair has achieved incredible results. Away from the slopes, Amelia enjoys swimming, reading, cooking and hiking.

No foreign spectators will be allowed into China but, unlike Japan, Chinese authorities have agreed to let in people from the country’s mainland, as long as they meet strict requirements around the COVID-19 countermeasures.

Winter Olympics have always had some special magic; picturesque scenery with thrilling and rather dangerous action. These elite athletes will be trying their best to bring home the gold. If they don’t, it won’t be from lack of hard work. Their wait is almost over – only a week until the Opening Ceremony. During the ten days of competition we should remember to judge the athletes on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

Mary Pianta.
Disability Contact Coordinator, Diocese of Sandhurst.