It’s a blustery evening on the slopes of PyeongChang and Ben Tudhope has a million-watt smile on his face.
Despite not taking a medal, the 18-year-old para-snowboarder states he gave it his all, achieving a strong 7th place in the Men’s Banked Slalom event.
Ben created history at the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics by being the world’s youngest winter Paralympian ever, making his debut at the age of 14.
Now 18, he is still the youngest member of the Australian team, and is setting his sights on the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing.
From snow play to world games
Coming from a family who loved to go to the snow for holidays, Ben has always loved winter sports.
Both his sisters ski and snowboard competitively so it was not a complete surprise that Ben was spotted by head coach of the Australian Paralympic snowboard team at the age of 10.
“I’m lucky that I found snow sports or particularly snowboarding,” said Ben, “because I’m no good at any other sport.”
For Ben, the benefits of sport are both social and physical. “You learn skills that no other platform in life will teach you,” he said. “It allows kids to express themselves and no matter what else is going on in their life like a disability, they will forget about it for just a moment and feel free.”
“It doesn’t have to be in sport but I think it’s very important for kids to chase their beliefs and have a purpose in life. Little achievements every day allow them to thrive for success.”
“Sport is very important for everyone, especially kids. You learn skills that no other platform in life will teach you.”
Ben has Cerebral Palsy (CP) and was born with substantial paralysis down one side of his body. “With my CP, I can’t get into certain positions or move in ways I want my body to work. It could be just the tiniest error that a spectator can’t even see, but they all add up to slow me down.”
Ben and his coach have come up with new ways and techniques to overcome these challenges. “I have to keep on repeating new movements to train my brain (on) the positions I need to be in to gain speed,” he said. “It’s not perfect and never will be but I try to adapt to new movements every day.”
The rewards are worth every bit of the effort. “Snowboarding for me compares to nothing else, every day is a different feeling, it’s addictive and that’s what keeps me going.”
Ben also loves the adrenaline rush of competing. “There is no better feeling then the silent air as the start gate is about to drop. Everything is going mental – excitement and nerves all at once – trying to determine your own future and making it through the next round.”
Behind the scenes
So what does a young Paralympian athlete do every day? Since finishing high school last year, Ben will now juggle his snowboard training with university. He is planning to start a Business Management course at the University of Technology Sydney next semester.
Apart from that, Ben enjoys paddle boarding, surfing and skateboarding, though he claims he is not very good at any of them. “Like any 18-year-old,” he said, “I also spend lots of time having fun with my mates!”