Sheffield ski star Louise Harrison says striking an inadvertent alpine connection can propel her to the Paralympic Games.
Always an avid skier, Harrison, 28, was first encouraged to become a ski instructor during a trip with her family, before eventually becoming a visually impaired guide.
Harrison was skiing with a different partner when she met Michael Kear at his first GB camp a decade ago during her time studying for a Masters degree in Dundee.
That chance meeting led to the duo joining forces and it’s safe to say they have never looked back since.
“When I went to university for my Masters, around five or six years ago, I bumped into Michael and he was fundraising for himself,” said Harrison, who is supported by SportsAid and Isokinetic and was speaking ahead of SportsAid Week 2023.
“I was chatting to him and his mum and they explained about his guide – Michael was based in Edinburgh and his guide was based in Manchester – so I said if they needed it, I was in Dundee and on the weekends we could ski at Hillend or Braehead.
“A week later Michael’s mum phoned and asked if I fancied a go at racing. It turned out the guide at the time had broken his ankle so they desperately needed someone to go into the race with him.
“We did about six runs down the slope together and then went straight into these races, and we’ve not looked back since. It was all just a bit of fate and chance meeting again, and feeling spontaneous at university!”
Kear is currently sidelined with a broken ankle, though once he returns the two will be looking to continue their preparation for a maiden Paralympic Games.
“The next one is in Milan-Cortina in 2026, so we’ve got our sights firmly set on that,” added Harrison.
“Michael did actually make the qualification criteria for Beijing, but due to the limited number of spaces on the team he wasn’t selected – he’d only made the criteria at the last minute, so that was understandable.
“He was also selected for the recent World Championships in Spain, but due to his injury he wasn’t able to attend. We’ll be looking to attend the next World Championships when that comes up.
“We’ll also compete in our first World Cup races together, because last season we achieved the qualification for those events as we were previously racing in European and North American Cup events.”
SportsAid Week 2023 is coming, with the annual initiative, which was launched in 2016, taking place from Monday 6 March to Sunday 12 March.
This year’s theme focuses on ‘Accessibility and Inclusion’ as the charity shines a spotlight on the country’s most talented young athletes and celebrates the incredible work being undertaken by its partners to support the future of British sport.
The theme of ‘Accessibility and Inclusion’ is an opportunity for the charity’s partners to highlight their own work in this area during SportsAid Week, with SportsAid athletes recently revealing that accessibility and the cost of sport are the issues they care most passionately about.
It will also open up discussions on the progress being made, as well as the challenges faced, in the sports sector.
“Accessibility and inclusion is first and foremost having those grassroots spots and facilities for people of any background to get involved in different sports,” said Harrison, who is funded by SportsAid and commercial partner Isokinetic.
“With it being so expensive ordinarily, there could be fantastic skiers living next door to me who haven’t got the access to get to the mountains but have got the ability to access Â£8 a week to go to a dry slope.
“I’ve suffered from anxiety, but when I keep up with sport and fitness, it clears my mind completely. It was a way I made friends with people. Without all of those things being cheap and accessible, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford them and would suffer a lot worse.
“For Michael, he struggles to find sports he can access because of his disability. Skiing has given him friendship, something to be committed to and teach him life skills that people would’ve have ruled him out for otherwise.
“A lot of people do turn it away, but we should be trying to find ways and to include people. It’s made a huge difference to my life and I can see the difference it’s made to other people’s lives as well.”
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