There is a big difference between summer and winter sports. Weather conditions differ, mental preparation varies, the endurance and the training is. very different. That’s why ParalympicsGB Nordic skier hopeful, Steve Arnold has an enormous task to achieve – not to mention ParalympicsGB has not had a Nordic Skier since 1998.
Steve, alongside Scott Meenagh, is in contention to be selected for ParalympicsGB and hit the slopes in Pyeongchang. After spending 16 years in the military, Steve’s life changed after he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan, losing both his legs above the knee in 2011.
From representing Britain on the frontlines of Kosovo and Iraq to representing Britain on the snow covered slopes of PyeongChang, Steve has some big hopes for the upcoming Games.
Winter sports wasn’t Steve’s first point of call after being introduced to hand cycling during his rehabilitation at Headley Court. Steve explains: “Cycling got me out of my hospital bed and it gave me the freedom and adrenalin I’d been missing. I’d never cycled even when I still had my legs – it was exciting and a new sport.”
The potential Steve had was clear for all to see and it wasn’t long before he was working with British Cycling where he set his sights on reaching the Paralympic Games as a cyclist. Unfortunately, his contract ended after Rio. “I was gutted but I had three and a half years to get myself to an international athlete standard,” says Steve. “Through Help for Heroes I was introduced to Nordic skiing in January 2017 and I loved it straight away. It felt like another new beginning and I was extremely grateful.”
Para-Nordic Skiing involves Cross Country Skiing and Biathlon, which tests both physical and mental strength. In Cross Country, there are three events ranging from the 1km sprint where power and speed is key, through to the 20km, which tests strength and endurance.
In the Biathlon, contenders have to balance the physical demands of undulated ski courses and refocus mentally when going onto the range to shoot five targets the size of a 5 pence piece from a distance of 10 metres. If you miss any targets and there is a 100-metre penalty loop.
The sport is challenging, but it is also extremely elite and one that makes thrilling viewing. Britain has not had a Nordic skiing competitor since 1998 – this is an exciting time for the sport. Steve says: “We don’t want to go to the Paralympic Games and it end again for another 20 years. We want to create a legacy and move this sport on and inspire others to take this up.”
Steve has already been on an incredible journey – serving in the military, overcoming a significant injury, to using his skills in sport to represent his country. After the knockback of not reaching the Paralympic Games as a cyclist Steve is determined to make this journey to the Games count.
“Looking at the bigger picture the big aim is to get to the Paralympic Games in March but I’m fully focused on the World Cups,” explains Steve. “The journey I’ve had from just missing out on the cycling and coming into this sport less than 12 months ago, to hit the standard and go would be an incredible feeling.”
“The real inspiration for me is being the best I can be. I want to show my family that although I was badly injured, I’m still the same Steve that I always was. Life goes on and I’m motivated to show them I’m still happy and doing something I love. Military was Plan A, Cycling was Plan B and now I’m onto Plan C. I don’t want to see it end the same way.”
It is no denying that Steve’s journey to PyeongChang has been eventful, if not bumpy, but after 20 years without a British Nordic skier could things be about to change?
The 2018 Winter Paralympics will begin on Friday 9 March until Sunday 18 March, held in PyeongChang, South Korea. Keep up to date with the ParalympicsGB team selections at www.paralympics.org.uk.