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Extraordinary Skiers & Snowboarders with Disabilities

James Sterry | 10 July 2017

Extraordinary Skiers & Snowboarders with Disabilities

With National Disability Awareness Day (DAD) taking place on Sunday 16th July to raise awareness of the many opportunities and achievements of people with disabilities. There is no better time to highlight the accomplishments of skiers and snowboarders with disabilities.

Disability Snowsports UK (DSUK) & Snowbility, both run sessions at The Snow Centre Hemel Hempstead, working with people with disabilities or additional needs to achieve inspiring things on the snow. Here’s just a couple of the stories from the many inspiring people working with DSUK.

Pro-daptive snowboarding makes it possible…

Marc Francis is a confident, easy going and outgoing 35-year-old. His hobbies include fishing, tennis, skiing and snowboarding, dining out and football. Marc is a professional wheel chair tennis coach and Pro-wheel chair tennis player ranked No. 220 in the world and No. 10 in the UK.

In 1998, at the age of 17 Marc was involved in a serious car accident which left him paralysed from the chest down. This was 18 years ago. He now uses a manual wheel chair, adapted car and tennis wheel chair to enable him to be fully independent. 

Earlier this year, Marc found out about the Pro-daptive Snowboard (Twin-rider), first designed in 2010 by Gina Van de Werf. There are around 15 Twin-riders in circulation worldwide, and Marc is the proud owner of the first one in the UK. He has been coming for lessons every few weeks at The Snow Centre.

“I like to try new things and want to go on a ski holiday next winter (2017). When I first tried the Twin-rider I was hooked - it was so much fun – now I know I will never give it up. Snowboarding with DSUK has made me even more independent and has opened up my life to new challenges – and it has also helped with my fitness. Other people are very impressed by my sit snowboarding and this motivates me even more. I’m so glad I gave it a go and that I came across DSUK. It’s a great charity which helps you fulfil your dreams of skiing and believes in you.”

The determination to snowboard with just 3% of his vision…

Haren Thillainthan is an adventurous, determined and fun 43 year old. His hobbies include fitness activities, such as triathlons and park runs, and also listening to audiobooks, going to gigs as well as snowboarding of course! Haren works full time as an energy lobbyist in London.

Haren has been visually impaired for 2 years. Haren has glaucoma damage to his optic nerve which has left him with no sight in his right eye (he wears a prosthesic eye) and very little sight in his right eye – he can only see light and colour and has only 3 % vision. Haren also has another condition called keratoconus which affects the cornea and the fluid in his left eye and can affect his vision even further. He is in the handful of patients worldwide where the condition is so reactive that the most extreme solution i.e. corneal grafts (transplants) breakdown with scarring and water build up. Haren is generally independent with use of long cane for mobility and is hoping to get a guide dog in future.

From Haren “I have been snowboarding for 13 months. I had just started learning to snow board before I lost my sight. I was keen to resume afterwards as I enjoy the freedom and sensation of the movement. I was also inspired by the VI skiing gold at the winter paralympics. My first experience of snowboarding was good fun, but realised it would take time to develop my snowboarding ability. I have enjoyed the last year and thanks to James' coaching I feel I have made great progress in this time. It's definitely given me more confidence to take on other activities as a VI participant - I recently started training for a triathlon. Most people are very impressed. I think snowboarding contributes to other people regarding me as more functioning member of society than they would otherwise.

For more information on DSUK Ski or Snowboard Lessons visit the Disability Snowsports UK website.

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