March 28, 2010

The best day of my life!

The morning after the Opening Ceremony started off as usual. Bad weather had been forecast and so we had received word from our coach that he would be calling to let us know if we would be training or not. As it turned out no-body trained that day, snow had been bucketing down for the past several days causing havoc among athletes and the organisers with no –one able to train. So off to the gym it was, bad weather had been forecast for the next several days and with my events still a week away I was contemplating a heavy weights session but at the last minute decided just to stick with a short, quick and explosive session- little did I know that this decision had just saved me.

We turned up to our team meeting at 6pm as per usual, the bad weather was the subject of all discussion no-one had ever seen such bad weather at a race before, not exactly great timing being the pinnacle event of our sport and the weather was not forecast to get any better all week. The rumour mill was flying with what events were going to be held first with every event being thrown out there as the first one to be put on. Steve our coach got straight to the point ‘the schedule has been changed Slalom is now tomorrow, GS and then the speed events. The organisers have had no choice but to do this...’

Everyone was stunned, not completely surprised but still in shock this had happened. The order of events had just been completely reversed. My event which was 7 days away was now 15 hours away, it was 6.30pm and I had to leave the athletes village at 7am for my race, losing an hour to daylight savings that night meant everything was even more rushed. Sure I had come to these games ready to compete but to be told so close to the start time threw all our plans away. Then it was the rush, ringing Mum so she could try and get tickets to my race, sending out emails so everyone in Australia could still watch me race and of course the actual preparation for the race, packing my bags, getting my protection gear ready and switching my focus into race mode- welcome to ski racing where anything and everything can change in a second.

My heart went out to a lot of my friends whose parents, fianc├ęs, children, families and friends were coming in only for the races and so were going to miss their loved one competing due to the change. I felt so fortunate that my Mum luckily had come over for the Opening Ceremony and so only needed to find tickets for the new days.

I woke up at 5.40am that morning, with all the changes my favourite event, Slalom had fallen on my 24th birthday and I was pumped! Slalom is by far my favourite event, having grown up on netball and basketball courts agility to me comes easily so naturally Slalom was the event I picked up the quickest plus as the improvements have dramatically risen I was now taking the gates completely also known as cross blocking and so I was very confident in my ability to conquer the 2 run race.

Arriving at the athlete lounge at the bottom of the hill nice and early I started to get ready. I ‘get in the zone’ by listening to my ipod and stretching lots, here is where I focus on my task at hand. Dressing is always a lengthy process in Slalom chin guards, shin guards, chest protector, arm and shoulder protectors makes pulling on a brand new speedsuit a 2 person task. Then on top add some outer gear, ski boots, helmet, 3 pairs of goggles for the potential light changes and it’s time to head out for inspection and my debut at the Paralympics!

Run 1 came and went. It was a solid run, I had never skied on snow so hard and icy before. It was a clean run, hard work but I was pretty happy with it, but there was definitely a lot of room for improvement. We crossed the finish line moving into 1st position 4 seconds ahead of the fastest girl at that stage. We moved into the media zone and by the completion of the first run we had moved down into 3rd with one of the top teams two tenths of a second behind us. It was crunch time the top 4 times of the first run would battle for the medals with the team in 5th over 4 seconds away and the rest even further.

(Me during the first run)

We hung out in the athletes lounge between runs watching our friends compete in the other classes. It was such a tough day the extreme conditions meaning that even the slightest mistake and you were out. People were crashing everywhere and there were a lot of good racers who I believe should have won medals that didn’t, unfortunately that’s ski racing, when something out of your control can happen and your day is over.

(Eric and I in the second run)

We headed back up for the 2nd inspection and 2nd run. There weren’t too many nerves I knew what I had to do and I was confident I could do it, I was in control of the situation and it was now up to me to put down the best run of my life to win a medal.

And then it was done the 2nd run had started and it had ended we crossed the finish line after a great run. The roar from the crowd was incredible and yet there were several seconds until Eric was able to look at the jumbo screen to tell me the news we were in the lead and we were guaranteed a Paralympic medal!

My arms flew up in the air accompanied with a scream and Eric and I celebrated! We headed out of the course to watch the final 2 teams- the most experienced and successful women on the circuit. They put down 2 great runs which left Eric and I with a bronze medal and the first ever Paralympic medal to an Australian female- what an honour!

(Pure excitement knowing we were guaranteed a medal!)

(Time to celebrate!)

(Finishing with a bronze on debut!!!)

Our smiles could not be contained, as we congratulated all the other competitors we moved into the media zone passing all the Australian staff and supporters along the way they were all jumping up and down with excitement and as I reached the TV crew a bunch of flowers were thrust into my arms with a huge Happy Birthday from everyone!!!

(The perfect birthday present!)

They must have announced it during the race because every single person I went past was yelling congratulations and happy birthday- it was awesome! After a ton of media it was finally time to see Team Australia- my Mum, friends, team mates and supporters who were there watching. It was great to be able to share the moment with them everyone was so excited jumping around in celebration. It was then into the VIP tent as the races were still going to support our team mate who had yet to race.

At the conclusion of the races a flower ceremony was held in the finish area. It was raining, cold and I was still in my speedsuit and race boots but I didn’t care we were presented to the crowd for our achievements and all the medallists soaked it up- figuratively and literally! It was an amazing moment and there was still plenty of those to come!

(The flower ceremony after the race)

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