Launceston-born snowboarder Simon Patmore is about to join a rare club of athletes to represent Australia at both Summer and Winter Paralympics.
Throw in a Commonwealth Games gold medal – when his impairment category featured in the athletics program in Delhi eight years ago and it makes for a handy trifecta.
A sprinter who followed up with a bronze medal in his 200m category at the London Paralympics six years ago, Patmore found himself training – in Brazil remarkably enough – a year out from the 2016 Rio Summer Paralympics when he discovered that his upper limb impairment class had been added to the snowboard program for South Korea this year.
Almost on the spot, Patmore set his sights on a radical switch to winter Paralympic sport. He had about three years to learn and master the art of board riding before competition in PyeongChang. One problem existed, however – the Queenslander had only once before seen snow – when he was about eight years old in Tasmania.
Therefore, switching from the running track to the icy slopes wasn’t a fait accompli. Patmore soon found himself heading to Perisher for an intensive three-day camp to test his capabilities.
‘‘When the Australian Paralympic Committee called me up and said, ‘Hey, do you want to give snow sports a go back in September 2014. I was like, ‘Yep, sign me up. What do I do?’,’’ said Patmore, who has Erb’s palsy – paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the upper group of the arm’s main nerves.
By the final day of the camp, Patmore found he could link his turns but he remembers this message from Australian coach Lukas Prem: ‘‘He said, ‘This is a sport where you have to commit 100 per cent. Go home, reassess your home life and work life and give me a call if you’re 100 per cent committed. We can turn you into a snowboarder’.’’
That was enough for Patmore and for the past three years he has been found his calling – chasing powder dreams and travelling the world as a virtual professional alpine athlete. Now the 30-year-old is one of 13 athletes picked to represent Australia at the Winter Paralaympics in PyeongChang next month.
His transition has been smooth enough, thanks mainly to a childhood history on the skateboard and some wakeboarding.
‘‘I’ve surprised myself actually. I didn’t think I’d be qualifying for the games. I thought it was going to take a little bit longer,’’ Patmore said.
‘‘The transition I found pretty hard on the first year, but just being taught how to snowboard really well. I’ve picked up a few medals and it’s built my confidence.’’
There have been moments of significant progress along the way.
I’ve picked up a few medals and it’s built my confidence.Simon Patmore
‘‘In the first eight months I understood the concept and getting the basics, linking turns correctly. Starting to carve,’’ he said.
‘‘Over the three years, I jumped from three different types of boards. I’d say in the past six months it’s clicked to where I can really understand and know what I’m doing on a board. Be able to become a competitor, and be competitive and not just rock up to a race and having fun.’’
Patmore is ranked top five in the world in his event – banked slalom in the snowboard cross – and the prospect of taking home another medal has crossed his mind.
‘‘The possibilities are endless I guess. It would definitely make me happy to have all three medals for sure,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s the best man on the day. At the moment it’s the top eight athletes who are all within a second or two of each other.’’
Regardless, he’ll never stop being grateful for his change of life three years ago and for those who've helped him on his new journey.
‘‘It was definitely a life-changing experience – going from full-time work and training after work with athletics to then stopping work altogether and chasing the snow,’’ he said.
‘‘Touring the world, chasing the snow, on a professional snowboard team was definitely something that has back-flipped everything.”