Owen Pick is a soldier who lost a leg in a Taliban blast in Afghanistan and now he has become a snowboard sensation… He tried out the sport after being discharged from the Army and within 18 months has hurtled up the World rankings, beating experienced able-bodied competitors.
The 23-year-old’s skills and daredevil spirit have made him a prime contender for glory at the 2018 Winter Paralympics and banished the tragedy of his fateful tour of duty in Afghanistan. “I’d never skied in my life until I was looking for something to try as part of my resettlement package from the Army,” he said. “I tried snowboarding and loved it - it has just progressed from there. “I’m delighted and a bit surprised with how well it’s going.”
Owen, a former Army cadet joined the Royal Anglian Regiment from school, was taken on a snowboard course by Blesma, the limbless veterans, charity which is backing his amazing rise to the top of the sport. But his adventurous lifestyle had seemed over when he stepped on an IED while on patrol as an 18-year-old. “I was three months into my first tour of duty when I got blown up,” added Owen, from Cambridge. “We’d been under fire all day and got the order to assault a compound after a firefight as we helped out a section that had come under heavy contact. “The first three dropped their bags so they could be a bit lighter once they got in and one of them said to me just get the bags and when I took a step there was a big explosion and that was the last I remember. It blew me 10 feet in the air and 15 feet back and apparently I came round asking for a cigarette.” “But I don’t remember anything until I was back in the UK two days later with my parents at my bedside. I was aware something bad had happened because my foot was in all sorts of funny directions but I did not know exactly what. “It sucks, of course, at first and there are days when I just wish I could have my leg back. But there is nothing I can do about it and I have this saying that ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’ and that helps me through.”
He was quickly in pursuit of a fresh adventure and tried wakeboarding and then snowboarding on a trip to Colorado organised by Blesma. His talent shone through. Owen followed up with a snowboard instructor’s course and then entered the snowboardercross section of the French National adaptive ski championships last year. “It doubled as my trials for the GB team and the coach just wanted me to get down the course safely but I outdid that by a mile and picked up a silver medal,” he added. “I’d been training for four days and was beating guys who had been doing it for two years.
“For me it was about having fun and doing something cool but now I’m really focussed on the Winter Paralympics.” Owen was invited to the prestigious X-Games – the sport’s ultimate freestyle showcase – to display his boarding talents and came 8th in the competition that was televised in the US. He uses conventional snowboarding gear and his only adaptation is a small plastic tube inserted into the bindings to promote his knee to the correct angle. “I remember being at Headley Court, the Army’s rehabilitation centre, and seeing people with all kinds of injuries and just getting on with rebuilding their lives. I feel that no injury should get you down or hold you back,” he said. “It is tough and you are going to have bad days but you can still do what you want. “One of my big passions is to get people out there. I love coaching and see people progress. It is huge for me. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without Blesma, I couldn’t afford it and their support has made it happen and I’ve had help forCombined Services Ski team.”
Owen is now rated 7th in the World and, if he maintains that rating, is on target for a place in the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korea. But his ambition is not restricted to personal performance. “I’m keen to get any injured people on skis or snow boarding, and that goes for kids and adult,” he said.” There’s not a lot of sporting opportunities for disabled kids. It's important to give them a chance.
“I do it because I love it, but if I can get people out their ski-ing or snowboarding or out in the mountains and enjoying what I do then that is great.”