From Soldier to Snowboarder | Owen Pick Goes For Paralympic Gold

Owen Pick was just 18 when he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, now he has his sights set on a podium finish at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing

As told to Blesma.

Owen Pick is heading to the Winter Paralympics ready to show the world why he was crowned Banked Slalom World Champion in 2020. The amputee Afghanistan veteran, who was named in Great Britain’s snowboarding team this week, missed out on a medal on his debut at Pyeongchang 2018, but now he is determined to win a podium finish.

“I came off the back of the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics a bit bummed out. I didn’t do as well as I expected,” admits the former Royal Anglian Regiment soldier.

“I then went into the following season a bit half-hearted. We worked on my mental game, my confidence, and suddenly, in my 2019 season, my results just went through the roof. I was winning pretty much every event. I even won Dew Tour, which was crazy. Hopefully, I can head into this Games, give it my all and have a better result this time.”

“As I did, I stood on an IED. I was blown 10 feet up and 15 feet away from the explosion point itself”

But a disappointing performance at a Paralympics Games doesn’t come close to the hardship the 30-year-old has already faced. For at just the tender age of 18, he was serving in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device.

“I joined the Army when I was 16. From a very young age, I got in the Army Cadets, and just loved it. Joining the Army was the only way forward for me. “By the time I was 17, I’d passed through my training and joined the Royal Anglian Regiment. I was only in Afghanistan for about three and half months before I was injured.

“We’d been under fire all day and got the order to assault a building. Four of us managed to clear it. I came back to pick up the bags that we dropped at the front door, but as I did, I stood on an IED. I was blown 10 feet up and 15 feet away from the explosion point itself. I don’t remember a great deal after that. Two days later, I woke up in hospital with a massive cast on my right leg. My heel, shin, and foot had been completely shattered.”

Initially, Owen fought to keep his leg, but after 18 months of excruciating pain, many failed operations, and long conversations with other amputees, Owen made the life-changing decision to have his leg amputated in August 2011. He hasn’t regretted that decision ever since.

“There were a lot of different opinions and I also spoke with people who decided to keep their leg as I was faced with a huge decision at the age of 19. But overall, the people that had been through with the amputation were just happier in themselves.”

“My first experience on a snowboard was horrible. The initial three days were hard. I spent most of the time on my face, constantly crashing”

Next, Owen threw himself into his rehabilitation and while he was at Headley Court, he saw a man wakeboarding and decided to have a go, too. He instantly loved it. But as the season turned colder, the sport wasn’t ideal. That’s when Owen had two brainwaves; the first was remembering watching snowboarding on the TV while he lay in his hospital bed and the second was military charity Blesma, The Limbless Veterans visiting him in hospital. Eager to give it a try, he contacted Blesma and it was a call that would be life-changing.

In 2012, Blesma offered Owen the chance to try snowboarding on a ski trip to Breckenridge in Colorado. “Blesma have supported me from that very first step on a snowboard to every step that followed over the next ten years.

Owen on his first snowboarding trip in Colorado in 2012

“My first experience on a snowboard was horrible. The initial three days were hard. I spent most of the time on my face, constantly crashing. There was a lot of me punching the snow out of frustration. Then halfway through day four, everything just clicked. It got easier.

“I had a goal at the start of that trip; I’d seen a jump that I wanted to do and naively thinking I thought it would be really easy. It wasn’t. By the end of the trip, I did make this jump and landed it. It was hard work, but it paid off. That trip started everything. From then I just fell in love with the sport.”

“If I didn’t have the Blesma funding not only would I not have the right snowboards, but I probably wouldn’t still be snowboarding”

Fast forward, Owen has competed in many world championships all over Europe, collecting a haul of medals and world Cup and Championship titles under his hand. He also formed part of the first British Para Snowboarding team to compete at a Paralympic Games in 2018 where he had flag-bearer duties. Now he is set to compete in his second Winter Paralympic Games. An opportunity that may not have been possible without the support of Blesma.

“If I didn’t have the Blesma funding not only would I not have the right snowboards, but I probably wouldn’t still be snowboarding. There have been seasons where Blesma pretty much-funded everything.”

“When the pandemic hit, it meant I couldn’t work my summer Airsoft job, which is how I fund the following season. So when the travel ban was lifted and the season restarted, Blesma stepped in to support me. Without the funding, I wouldn’t be able to afford the season, which means I may have only got to a few competitions but not all of them. I wouldn’t have been able to get the points to be able to get to the Games.”

“Going into the Beijing Games, I definitely feel calmer. I’m not as nervous, because I’ve experienced the Games before and I’ve felt what it’s like to not do as well as what I want to do. So, this time I think my aim is to enjoy it. Nine times out of ten if I’m enjoying myself, the results show for that. Hopefully, it works this time.”

Owen will be competing in the men’s SB-LL2 category in Banked Slalom and Boardercross at the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games, which start on Friday 4th March.

Blesma, The Limbless Veterans, is dedicated to assisting serving and ex-Service men and women who have suffered life-changing limb loss or the use of a limb, an eye or loss of sight in the honourable service of our country. To find out more information, make a donation or apply for membership visit their website here.

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