The Olympic dream came one step closer to reality for Rossland para-snowboarder Ian Lockey.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced last week that para-snowboarding will be included in the Alpine Skiing program at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“It’s very exciting,” says Lockey, a standing paraplegic boarder who has been competing since 2006.
The IPC flip-flopped on a 2011 ruling that denied the sport’s application for inclusion into the 2014 Games.
“It’s incredible,” said national para-snowboard coach Candice Drouin. “We were told last year that it wasn’t going to be included . . . We were very disappointed, but we moved forward and continued developing the sport with an eye to 2018.”
But the 2018 Paralympic Games was a long climb for the 39-year-old Lockey, so Friday’s announcement has the coach and para-snowboarder suitably satisfied.
“I don’t know why (they changed policy) and I don’t really care, once we’re in, I don’t ask,” said Drouin. “I’m really excited, especially for athletes like Ian Lockey and Tyler Mosher that probably wouldn’t continue on in the competitive side of snowboarding until 2018.”
After suffering a spinal cord injury almost 10 years ago in a snowboarding accident, doctors told Lockey, a New Zealand native, that recovery was not an option.
“I was told I would never snowboard, never ride a bike, walk or do anything like that again,” said Lockey.
But the freshly minted Canadian citizen soon discovered that, although limited, he could walk and so he began trying other activities.
“I could ride a bike a little bit, but I couldn’t surf or skateboard so I didn’t want to try snowboarding, but then one day I decided I just had to go, and found I could still do it (snowboard),” he said.
With a few modifications to his board, Lockey was back in action and has been skiing with the Canadian para-snowboard team since its formation in 2008.
After taking bronze at a World Cup event in 2010, and a silver medal at the Canadian Championships, a shoulder injury at the 2011 X-Games in Aspen, Col. forced Lockey to take the rest of the year off. On his return last month, he placed fifth in his first World Cup race in over a year.
Continued good health and strong finishes in upcoming competitions should ensure Lockey’s spot on the team.
“Ian loves snowboarding,” said Drouin. “He puts his body into potential danger because he just loves to go snowboarding and to him it’s worth it. I think the combination of experience and a real love for the sport is a really good combination for someone to be successful.”
With the inclusion of his sport in the Sochi Games, the 39-year-old has renewed enthusiasm for the sport and is committed to giving it his best shot.
“I have to train hard, and prove that I am training – it is all performance based, so from now on if I don’t perform I won’t get to go, but if I do perform it’s all good.”
Originally called Adaptive Snowboard, the sport is practiced worldwide and runs a track similar to snowboard-cross with competitors racing solo. Called a slingshot event, the boarders are judged on time and are handicapped based on their disability.
The first World Cup event took place in Whistler in 2008 and since has grown and expanded to become a popular sport.
However, the para-boarders are at a bit of a disadvantage. The organizers have only two years to prepare and seek out funding when most of the grants and stipends have already been allocated.
After overcoming such incredible obstacles, athletes like Lockey and sit-skier Kimberley Joines could use the support.
“I was at a point where I’ve put my body on the line a lot of times for Canada and sometimes I’ve come off second best,” said Lockey. “I was at a point where I was near retirement, now I have the drive to go again.”