Read my latest interview with On Track Magazine below as published in the December - January issue.
King of the Mountains
Little over six years ago, Welshman Chris Lloyd was told he would never return to the ski slopes. As 2017 draws to a close, he is now only a couple of qualification events and three months away from an appearance at the Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang and a chance to compete against the world’s best, a long way from his hospital bed, unable to move from the neck down and the sports he loves heartbreakingly torn away from him. 30 years after first falling in love with skiing, like many fans of the sport, on a school trip, He is now pushing the elite of para snowsports and is looking forward to This March’s event.
“I got into skiing when I was on a school trip at about 14 and that was the first time that I experienced skiing,” said Chris. “Honestly, being out in the fresh air, in the mountains, on skis and having no limits, that was a big draw for me. The freedom of being in the mountains of the fresh air hasn’t changed from before my accident to after.”
‘The accident’ Chris is referring to happened in September 2011. Whilst enjoying another of his sporting passions, he was driving a rally car when things went seriously awry.
“I was driving a rally car and we went on the road at high speed. I basically ended up flipping up a couple of times, hitting a tree when the car was upside down, hitting my head then breaking my back and damaging my spinal cord at my neck. At that point I was paralysed from the neck down.”
After a groggy couple of days, Chris was visited by a specialist consultant who had examined his scans. The news he delivered was devastating. “He came in and saw everything and let me know that my life would never be the same again. I’d never ski, never drive a rally car again. The injuries were quite severe, I had damaged my spinal cord and broken my back. My life changed right then.”
That change was not what many might think. Not one for wallowing in his own struggle, Chris’ first thought was getting back on the slopes, and the Paralympics. “As soon as he told me the words “you’ll never ski again”, I was determined to prove him wrong,” remembers Chris. “Nothing else went through my head and the determination from then on to get back on the skis was relentless.”
“The recovery was slow and brought together a lot of different things. Visualisations and other tools to just get any movement were the starting points as I was paralysed from the neck down. Then we managed to progress being able to stand a little bit but not move very much at all.
“Then it was just a case of pushing my steps, one day ten, the next day 12, and so on. Basically, I was reprogramming my body to walk again, and not just my legs but my hands as well. We had to start from the beginning, crawling up the stairs like a baby would at first and anything really to get these signals get back through because the electrics from my brain to my body had been damaged.”
It would be over a year from his accident before Chris would return to his skis. Thanks to a specialist session set up by a sports charity in Tamworth, Chris got from the top of a slope to the bottom. That in itself was an achievement and the first step towards the goal of getting to the Winter Paralympics.
Nowadays, the challenge is much more than just getting from top to bottom. Having attended the Sochi Games as an invited prospective athlete who could make it to PyeongChang, Chris was able to take in the scale of the event and the task ahead of him. “It was brilliant, it was just another step towards a goal that started when I was first in a wheelchair thinking about the Paralympics.”
Chris is now regularly amongst the world’s elite para skiers. Two top ten finishes in World Cup events early in 2017 were offset by a disappointing injury to his knee ligaments and a return to rehab. Now recovered from that latest setback, preparations have shifted up a gear for PyeongChang.
Chris said: “I’d had a couple of good world cup results, so it was all building nicely and then I had to go back into rehab, get that strong again and get it all fixed up. Training and everything is going really well at the minute so hopefully I can qualify and do well.
“With my results in January I would be selection worthy but there’s a chance to assess with some world cup races coming up. All going well I should meet those criteria, I set my own goals and what I think I can do but at the minute I’m just thinking about getting to the games and then focusing to do my best.”
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