Brigadier Fred Hargreaves OBE, CEO AFPST
The Armed Forces Para-Snowsports Team (AFPST) has had a phenomenal year that culminated in two of our athletes competing in the PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games. Our numbers have swelled significantly this season, enabling us to support over 150 injured, wounded and sick service personnel and veterans. Our aim is to provide recovery, freedom and transformation through competitive winter sport. There are no boundaries to what can be achieved – from Foundation level to competing on the world stage. It’s all up for grabs.
Owen Pick and Scott Meenagh made it through to PyeongChang in March, with their boundless enthusiasm keeping the entire team energized throughout the season and beyond. Momentum is still running high, with our Newcomers Event this week quadrupling in size compared to previous years. With so many new beneficiaries, this coming season promises to be busier than ever.
Our Paralympic Inspiration Programme, supported by Help for Heroes and the British Paralympic Association, has made it possible for some of our athletes to train with the 2022 Games firmly in their sight. The entire team has demonstrated tremendous commitment, determination and grit. As a result, their skills on the snow are nothing short of awesome! https://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/news/2018/march/pip-blog
Although all three disciplines – Alpine, Nordic and Snowboarding have benefited from an action-packed program of activity, the Foundation Snowboarding Team in particular has flourished. An increase in qualified instructors meant we were able to support over 20 new Snowboarders to get out there and ride the slopes.
History in the making at the Paralympics
What an amazing two weeks at the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics 2018, where our two athletes flew the flag for Britain. Scott Meenagh tackled the grueling Nordic track and Owen Pick fearlessly commanded the slopes. Both made history; Scott was the first ever British Nordic Sit Skier and Owen was part of the first ever British ParaSnowboarding Team.
The medal successes of the Visually-Impaired Women, all of whom were guided by a serving Royal Navy, Army or Royal Air Force individuals, cannot go un-mentioned. Menna Fitzpatrick and Captain Jennifer Kehoe are Britain’s most successful Winter Paralympians, an amazing achievement from AFPST’s previous Alpine Performance Manager. It was equally inspiring to see Able Seaman Brett Wild guiding Millie Knight to multiple medal success, and Corporal Gaz Smith of the RAF, guiding Sochi-Gold medalist Kelly Gallagher.
A massive well done goes to Scott Meenagh for being one of only three Paralympic GB athletes to ever complete six events, for covering over 58km of track and for being Great Britain’s first ever sit skier. Scott put British Para-Nordic back out there on the world stage, demonstrating what is possible and inspiring the next cycle.
Owen Pick represented Great Britain proudly as part of the First Para Snowboard Team Great Britain has ever had. We were extremely proud of his performance on the slopes which followed the immense honour of carrying the flag during the Opening Ceremony. Talking after the Games, Owen said: “You’re told you can’t do certain things because of your injury and I want to prove them wrong. I haven’t got a choice whether I continue. I can’t leave it. I’m one of those people who sets themselves a goal and I haven’t achieved that goal. I’ll be back.”
The British Military and the Paralympic Movement
The British military have a longstanding relationship with the Paralympic movement. It goes back as far as 1948 when Stoke Mandeville Hospital used sport to aid the recovery of World War II veterans. This affiliation was clearly evident in PyeongChang, where 15 serving personnel or veterans were competing or facilitating in some way towards the Games.
The AFPST and Help for Heroes were praised for their increased contribution to the National Programme by the President of the British Paralympic Association, Professor Nick Webborn. Equally meaningful, the President of the International Paralympic Committee singled out Scott Meenagh as a shining example of the contribution being made by the British Armed Forces to the Paralympic movement. Images of Scott and Sergeant Mick Brennan who, supported by AFPST became GB’s very first military winter Paralympian at Sochi 2014, helped to reinforce the importance of the Paralympics as a global platform; to demonstrate that anything is possible and to inspire society to make a better world for disabled people.
AFPST During the Games and Beyond
Not all of our attention has been on the Paralympics. The rest of the team have been kept busy with a challenging schedule of events. Four of our athletes and a coach attended the AIG Winter Summit. Every year, AIG, the headline sponsors of the Endeavour Fund and Disabled Sports USA invite alpine and snowboarding beneficiaries of the AFPST to compete at their annual winter summit in Stowe, Vermont. The event raises around $700,000 for Disabled Sports USA. As always, the snow in Stowe was fantastic and one of the highlights was skiing the famous ‘Bruce Trail’ with Olympic freestyle gold medalist Jonny Moseley.
Concurrent to the Games, Trend Micro, an increasingly keen supporter of the AFPST, kindly invited sit-skier Ollie Thorn to present at their Inspire Leadership Summit in Austria. Briefing an audience of over 50, Ollie spoke of his injuries and how he found adaptive skiing to be so fundamental to his recovery. It was a compelling and inspiring speech. Other than being amazed at Ollie’s skiing ability and the ongoing Paralympic performances, they left with a greater understanding of para-snowsport and the wider Service Charity Sector.
At the end of January, we had the chance to bring our Nordic and Alpine Foundation Teams together in Serre Chevalier, France where the energy, passion and enthusiasm to get out on the tracks and slopes proved infectious. It was fantastic to see the next generation of AFPST athletes embracing the opportunity to improve their skiing and to feel part of a team again. The programme was run alongside the Army Alpine Championships where many of our alpine athletes had the opportunity to forerun for the Army races.
Two of our athletes also took part in the RAF Alpine Skiing Championships in Saalbach-Hinterglemm. Despite challenging weather conditions, Shona Brownlee was awarded the “Spirit of the Championships” prize, awarded annually to the competitor who best demonstrates the spirit of competition and the values of the RAF throughout the Championships. She said: “Having enjoyed racing at the Army Championships the past couple of years, it was great to have the new challenge of racing at the RAF Championships this year and also to be able to increase the profile and raise awareness of AFPST within the RAF.”
If we’ve inspired you to get involved as a volunteer, a fund raiser or as an athlete, do get in touch with us at www.afpst.co.uk. We’d love to hear from you.