No Excuses – Pure Inspiration from Owen Pick

From Amputee to Olympic Snowboarder - Owen's Story is Undeniably Incredible

We’ve all done it

We’ve all made a really lame excuse to not go snowboarding.
‘My back is a bit sore.’
‘The light is a bit flat.’
‘The snow is a bit too wet / hard / soft / rubbery / crystall-y.’
‘My eyelids are too itchy.’
‘I need to stay in to look after my friend’s dog’ (I have actually heard someone say this on a power day).

There are those amongst us who take a different approach, and there are those amongst us who, as a consequence, rise up above the primordial snowboarding sludge to reach heights that the rest of us can’t quite imagine.

Owen Pick, Olympian snowboarder, is one of those guys.


This isn’t your typical snowboarding back-story. This story doesn’t start on a dryslope, or in a snowdome near a shopping centre, or on the mellow contours of a sun-kissed alpine slope populated with colour-coded tourists. This story was born in the dust, in the oppressive heat, in a barren, hostile landscape laced with adrenaline, the steady trickle of salted sweat and cut-with-a-knife tension. This story starts with a homemade cocktail of fuel and shrapnel and with a massive explosion.

Owen Pick left school at 16 to join the Army. That was what he had always wanted to do. He had been taking part in Army cadets since he was 12, so when he joined the Royal Anglians in 2008, he was very much living his dream. Not long after, as was the case for many young men and women in the armed forces at that time, he got the call to head out to Afghanistan.

In our late teens, many of us reading this article will have been staring at the glossy pages of magazines and dreaming of riding powder, washing dishes in a shitty chalet in a resort somewhere in Europe and obsessively watching snowboard movies in the vain hope that it would automatically programme a backside seven into our brains and ultimately get us laid with someone continental and exotic. Owen was being shot at. With hard little bullets that rip through your body. Owen was putting himself into the sorts of situations that most of us would never, ever want to encounter. Owen is not your typical snowboarder.

“The IED only partially detonated – but this was still enough to shatter his right foot, heel, shin and ankle”

On day zero of this back-story, one of the British platoons in Afghanistan were coming under heavy attack. Owen was deployed to the rescue mission and after 6 hours of fighting made it to the enemy compound, which needed to be cleared. Owen was the 4th man in.

Owen stood on an IED. An IED with 50kg worth of explosives, enough to blow him and everything around him into titchy little pieces. In what he describes as an act of good fortune, the IED only partially detonated – but this was still enough to shatter his right foot, heel, shin and ankle.

Which he discovered, when he woke up in hospital.

Just take a moment to reflect on that. I know this is a snowboarding article and thus inherently throwaway, but stop scrolling on this webpage and think that through. You’re barely old enough to buy a beer, you’ve spent most of your teenage life working towards becoming a solider, and it has just been taken away from you, before it even got started. In an instant. That’s it, you now need to find something else to do. The plan you had has just been ripped up. And the new plan leaves you with only one working leg.


“From that moment on, snowboarding was indelibly inked into Owen’s mind, and a new chapter began”

Sitting in hospital, and one can only assume that it was an incredibly enlightened hospital because it wasn’t showing “cash in the attic” or some other mid-morning TV semolina, Owen somehow found himself watching Torstein Horgmo doing what Torstein does…throwing huge floaty spins, nailing super technical rail tricks and generally being a Vlogging legend. From that moment on, snowboarding was indelibly inked into Owen’s mind, and a new chapter began.

But it was a chapter that took a while to write.

It was actually about 18 months after the accident that Owen finally decided that it would be better to have his leg amputated below the knee. Freed from the daily battle to save a limb that was no longer functional, he was able to embrace his condition and launch himself into sport, trying his hand at a wide variety of disciplines – including bobsleigh, wakeboarding, rock climbing & scuba diving.

This was all thanks to charities such as BLESMA, Battle Back and Help for Heroes, who help injured servicemen and women to enjoy new experiences and live fulfilling lives post injury.

With the support of these charities, Owen’s positivity and lust for life opened many doors. As he explained himself: “I just said yes to everything, and travelled the world doing loads of amazing sports”. But it wasn’t until 2014, around three years after the operation to remove his right leg below the knee, that he finally got to realise his ambition to snowboard.

(Just remember that date, 2014 – because that will come in handy later when we move to the next chapter of this story…)

BLESMA were running a trip to Breckenridge, to introduce ex-servicemen and women to adaptive skiing. Owen, as any true looking sideways devotee would, wangled the chance to snowboard instead. This was probably the best wangle ever, because whilst in Breckenridge his private instructor turned out to be a guy called Keith Gabel, who had just returned from competing in the Sochi Paralympics, winning bronze in the snowboard cross. Understandably, Owen was inspired by the achievements of his mentor and so made it his mission to become a snowboard instructor himself, hoping to pay forward the inspiration to others.

But it wasn’t, like many other steps in this journey, straightforward…

“For the first week of the course, I was just another person. Then about a week into the course, I fell and twisted my leg, so had to take it off”

“At that time, adaptive snowboarding wasn’t really a thing. It had appeared in the Olympics, but there weren’t many adaptive snowboard instructors, so I just booked onto an instructor course, and didn’t tell the guys running the it that I was missing a leg. For the first week of the course, I was just another person. Then about a week into the course, I fell and twisted my leg, so had to take it off. The guys running the course were pretty shocked, but were totally cool with me continuing and so I stuck with it and gained my level 1 & 2 qualification.”

This short, mildly gruesome, story gives you an insight into the mind of Owen Pick. He doesn’t want any favours or to be treated differently, he ultimately wants his riding to be judged objectively, not through the lens of his injury. As I said at the start of the article, for those of us who have made excuses about our riding because of a sore toe, or because we haven’t had enough carbohydrates, or because Pisces and Saturn weren’t perfectly aligned and the light was a bit flat, it’s worth taking note. No excuses.

The theme of not making excuses continued later that year, when Owen went to the French national adaptive boardercross championships, equipped with a 152cm freestyle board. During practice, he managed to knock himself out, whilst the other competitors (with fully waxed race boards) got in several more laps.

Whilst he probably didn’t observe concussion protocols (maybe not that surprising for a guy who has seen active service in Afghanistan), Pick then went on to come second in that competition. Yep, second. Second to a guy who had just come 6th in the Olympics. Pick thus realised, that with only a few weeks snowboarding under his belt, he might be onto something.

“I figured, I might actually be quite good at this, but at that time, there was no British Paralympic snowboard team and there was no British Paralympics snowboard coach so I wasn’t quite sure what the route was going to be.”

Notwithstanding this directional fog, in 2015, Pick managed to get himself to Stubai, a trip that was paid for by the Armed Forces Para Snowsports Team, and got busy doing some serious training along with fellow adaptive rider Ben Moore.

It wasn’t long before they worked out the fundamentals of the snowboarding life:
“We didn’t really know much about being athletes, we just went snowboarding and partied, then went snowboarding again and partied again – but at the end of the winter we managed to get ourselves to the US for some World Cup events and did pretty well.”

Yep, so well, that Owen was invited to the X Games. Yes, that’s another one of those “holy shit I can’t believe that just happened” moments in this story. Having taken up riding less than 2 years previously, Pick was on his way to the WorldsGreatestActionSportsComp(TM), fully engulfed and welcomed into the bosom of all the Disney-fied Shaun White-endorsed glitz of ESPN.

“Having taken up riding less than 2 years previously, Pick was on his way to the X Games”

And so, how did Pick do? Yep, he crushed it, again. He came 7th. In the X Games. And so it came to pass that the world of snowboarding started to unfurl ahead of him. The British team saw that he had talent, and got Pick, and his partners-in-crime Ben Moore and James Barnes Miller hooked up with a coach, support staff, a sports psychologist – all the stuff that we know brings huge performance gains and has paid dividends for athletes around the globe in all disciplines – and told them to go and qualify for the Olympics.

“We really started to improve during that period, which could also be because we stopped partying so much, but we were constantly getting podiums in the World Cup events – and so by the time we got to December 2017, we knew we were going to the Olympics”.

OK reader, take another deep breath. Imagine you’ve taken up snowboarding, and about three years later, you are about to become an Olympian. Holy cow bells. What a ridiculous ascendancy.


If there is a “but” in this story, it comes in the form of Pick’s results in PyeongChang. The Olympics inevitably dials everything which isn’t the pure act of snowboarding up to 11, and this was where the shock came.

“It was so overwhelming, there is just so much you can’t prepare for, all the media attention is crazy. I ended up being the flagbearer as well, which was a huge honour – but it all went a bit mental after that – there was so much pressure and expectation that I had never felt before, I wasn’t really ready for it all.”

I think this makes for an interesting moment of reflection. Being in the forces, you are trained to cope with situations that would cause a normal civilian to freak out. Being shot at for example. Military training hard-wires a set of actions into your brain, that give you the best chance of a successful outcome when tackling something objectively terrifying. The link between the military and sport is well trodden, but it came as a surprise to me that for all the dedication and focus that came with being part of the Olympic squad, that process had left Pick under-cooked when it came to coping with the entirely predictable brouhaha of Olympic nonsense.

“I compete so that I can snowboard, I don’t snowboard just to compete”

Notwithstanding all this hullaballoo, because Pick had enjoyed a series of podiums and top-four finishes in World Cup events leading up to the Olympics, he was pretty confident of making the snowboardcross final. Sadly, it didn’t quite play out that way.

A problem with the start gates meant that a new system was introduced for the semi-final race, and whilst it was the same for all competitors, it didn’t end up working to Owen’s advantage. What’s more, he couldn’t get in tune with the bullet-proof icy course for the banked slalom race a few days later, so ended up returning home without a medal.

Disappointing, but this is a man who has made a habit of kicking down doors to get where he wants, so his focus has quickly moved onto the next cycle.

“It was a great learning experience, I definitely want to go again in four years time, and if I do, I will be much better equipped to deal with all the stuff that I found overwhelming first time around. We’re already working towards Bejing.”

But whilst the Olympics has provided structure and a goal for the last few years, Pick sees the snowboarding world through a much broader lens.

“I compete so that I can snowboard, I don’t snowboard just to compete. Snowboarding is a huge challenge for me, just going riding without one leg is always going to be difficult…but I love just riding in Tignes with guys like James Sweet, Scoph, Will Hughes. I love nothing more than riding powder, and the fact that I can keep up with those guys, some of the best riders out there, is a great feeling. To be honest, if I could ride powder every day rather than compete, I’d take that.”

And his passion for the core of the sport remains intact, despite having burned a bunch of his mojo reserves chasing the Olympic dream.

“Training for the Olympics, snowboarding can start to feel like a bit of a job, which is kind of what it is. But I really like just snowboarding for the sake of it. That’s why I love watching Halldor – he is just riding because he loves snowboarding, he’s doing it for himself.”

Also not bad at partying too.

As our interview stepped back from the chronology of his snowboarding journey so far, and got into his motivations and ambitions, Owen’s determination and complete inability to be constrained by his injury really started to shine through.

I could imagine him being a poster child for Nike’s famous “Just Do It” ad campaign. He doesn’t see barriers and complications, only opportunities. His ambition is very much to inspire others, able bodied and adaptive, to go out and reach their potential.

“My dream would be to go out and film the first backcountry part by a guy with one leg. I want to show the world that you can do anything, even if you’ve got an injury like mine. I want to inspire others to do the same, push their boundaries. I want to show people what is possible.”

The “anything is possible” mindset runs through everything Pick does, including the work he does with his sponsors. Rather than making himself a mercenary vehicle for “bumper sticker” logo placements, Pick has instead formed a long term relationship with CMMNTY, a clothing brand that commit a significant portion of their profits towards combatting homelessness.

“I’d love to see more people with injuries like mine get into snowboarding, I’d like to see a British team of 10 adaptive snowboarders going to the Paralympics, with another 20 athletes behind them”

Whilst the issue of homelessness is too complicated and too serious to do justice in the context of a snowboard interview, Pick’s journey from what must have been the valley of despair in Afghanistan to being a flagbearer at the Olympics cannot fail to inspire those who are staring down the barrel of adversity. Pick is carefully using his position as a snowboarder to make a positive impact, to do good.

And whilst it’s maybe too soon to be talking about legacy for someone still in their 20s, Pick is clear on the mark that he wants to leave.

“I’d love to see more people with injuries like mine get into snowboarding, I’d like to see a British team of 10 adaptive snowboarders going to the Paralympics, with another 20 athletes behind them ready to take it forward after that. I want to inspire people to just go and do what they want to do, believe in themselves. If you want to do something enough, you can make it work, no matter what. I managed to find a way to live my dream, I am not saying it was easy at any point, there was no blank cheque, there was lots of work that I had to do, but I found a way to make it happen. Everyone else can too.”

Pick recognizes that not every day is a good one, but found a way through those darker moments by focusing on what he was able to influence.

“Even when you are feeling miserable and not up for things, there’s always someone else having a worse day. When I was sat in my hospital bed, I had lost a leg, but I was looking around and seeing people who had lost both legs and an arm. So I realized that you can get through anything if you just focus on the things under your control, and channel your energy in a positive way.”

So…next time your dog has eaten your homework and your knee is a bit sore and you’ve decided not to hit the medium kicker line because you’re “not feeling it”, just remember how lucky you are. Excuses are inherently lame. As Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

There are always people you meet who you think would have been successful not matter what they did in life, because that drive and commitment is a completely transferrable trait. Owen Pick is one of those guys. He is a great representative of both our sport of snowboarding, and our nation. Whether he ends up filming a part with Terje, getting gold at the next Olympics or just having a blast riding powder with his mates for the rest of his days, there is so much we can all learn from his story.

This interview was made possible thanks to CMMNTY


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