Wednesday, 25 April 2018

In Conversation With Paralympic Skier Chris Lloyd

In September 2011 life completely changed for Chris Lloyd when a rally car accident left him paralysed from the neck down. He went from having an active lifestyle to needing help with the simplest of things. But, it was also the beginning of a journey that most certainly would never have begun had he not endured the life changing event. Just seven years on from the accident Chris competed in the recent Winter Paralympic Games in South Korea and I got the chance recently to chat to him about his injury, the sport he loves and his experience at the games.

Man is skiing down a hill, wearing a blue ski suit with red skis and green ski poles.

Chris' journey started with a rally car accident, a broken back and spinal cord damage at C3 and C4 that left him paralysed from the neck down, at first. Chris talked to me about his original prognosis: "When I saw the consultant he basically said to me that my life wouldn't be normal again, I wouldn't be able to ski, I wouldn't be able to drive rally cars, so my life would be very different."

Chris was determined from the beginning to prove everyone wrong though and he quickly exceeded everyone's expectations. Months after the crash he slowly started to regain movement and he began to walk, it the first step in what was to be a long process but he kept proving everyone wrong. His consultant was said to be astounded by his remarkable recovery.

Man wearing blue jacket with union jack flag accents holds skis over one shoulder.

Prior to his accident Chris was skiing recreationally and on holidays with his family but he'd never competitively raced, he talked to me about how he got into racing: "When I was in rehabilitation in Cardiff there was a poster for the Paralympic Games in London 2012 and from there I set myself a goal to get as good as I could and try and compete in a Paralympic Games, and that's what led me to ski again and eventually get to the Paralympics in South Korea in March just gone."

I couldn't quite believe it when I read that Chris was back skiing just 12 months after his accident, but whilst talking to him it was clear that he is and always has been a determined and motivated individual.

"I've always been quite motivated and just tried my best at whatever I've done. When I had my injury obviously I wanted to try my best as I had a family and two young children so I felt like I'd massively let them down, my boy was crying because I couldn't play football. It just gave me a massive determination to get back as good as I could to do stuff with them. Pushing myself has been the best thing I could have done, my quality of life is better now because I pushed myself as far as I could. In day to day living it's given me a benefit because I'm fitter and stronger than I maybe thought I ever would have got."

Close up of a man looking sideways at something outside

Of course though, it's not all plain sailing when you receive the kind of life changing injuries that Chris did in the accident.

"I think the hardest part is having your independence taken away, I couldn't use my hands so I had to be fed. It's a massive change to life, before you could go out and do anything you want and all of a sudden I was stuck in a hospital bed and had to get washed and I couldn't go to the toilet, your life is just upside down and that's something you never expect and you've never experienced. Unless you have that injury than you can never know, it's hard to explain to someone, you can talk about it but unless you've done through it then people can't experience how difficult it is."

This is a feeling that I think many disabled people can relate to, all of our situations are so different and unique to ourselves so it can often be an isolating experience when it feels like no one else understands or can relate. For Chris getting back into skiing was something that helped this: "It was something I was told wouldn't be possible so then actually getting back out to do it was like someone giving you a second chance, giving you a lifeline."

Man is skiing down a hill, wearing a blue ski suit with red skis and green ski poles.

Chris worked hard from then on, both physically and mentally, teaching himself meditation and positive visualisation to give his body the best chance of pushing him to that goal of competing in the Paralympic Games. Chris only has 40% power in his right leg and 50% power in his left so it takes him 3 or 4 times more energy to get round a course, recovery can take days.

Chris' Paralympic journey started with a session with a disability snowsport charity, leading on to him being invited to join a development squad with the British Disabled Ski Team. He then attended Sochi 2014 with the Paralympic Inspiration Programme which further motivated him to secure a spot at the most recent games, PyeongChang 2018. Last month after years of hard work he finally achieved his goal and finished 20th in the men's standing downhill and 25th in the Super-G, an outstanding achievement. I asked him about his experience at the games:

"It was amazing to be part of that, to get there and come to the end of the journey, it was the goal I'd set myself quite early on in hospital, so to get there was amazing and a proud moment for me and my family. The atmosphere and everything there, all the support and the team was just brilliant. I think it was better than I expected, I had an idea of what to expect because I'd gone to Sochi in 2014 but actually competing was so different."

Man is looking at the camera wearing a blue ski suit, holding a blue helmet and red skis.

Whilst skiing has ended up being Chris' true passion, he did try out a few other parasports during his rehabilitation, but found out that they weren't easy to access: "I went to cycling and they said I was too old and then I went to rowing and was told I was too short so I did try parasports as just part of my rehab and I didn't realise how difficult it was to access some of these things."

He went on further, telling me about how people can often be a barrier as well: "Sometimes the people you speak to are not as encouraging as you would want them to be as well, it can be a little bit of a knockback."

To finish things off Chris had some more advice for any disabled people, of any age, who are interested in taking up a sport, whether it be just for fun or competitions.

"The advice I'd give is that if it's something that you love and enjoy then just keep on trying to access it and don't give up, try different avenues as I know it wasn't easy for me to get into sport when I was getting knocked back and it can be a little daunting when you think it's quite easy but it wasn't as easy as I thought it was. Just keep on trying though."

Blue skies in the background as a man looks past the camera, wearing a blue jacket

If you're interested in trying out a sport then you can find out more about all of the Paralympic sports on the ParalympicsGB website.

You can also stay up to date with Chris and his journey via his Twitter and website. 
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