Sport

Life with cerebral palsy hasn't stopped this 15-year-old snowboarder from taking on the world. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: RICHARD COOKE

Small wonder: Ben Tudhope, 15, snowboarder

I was the youngest out of everyone at Sochi [2014 Winter Olympics]. I met a lot of people, quite amazing. I couldn’t party as much back then, but still I could have a good time. People kind of took me under their wing and guided me and helped me if I needed help.

On a race day, you have no idea what to expect. The day before may be a training date where it’s sunny and hot and warm, and the snow is a bit still and slushy, but on the race day it could be raining and hard snow. You have to just feel it out.

We have grown up as a snow family. When I was eight I took to snowboarding because of my sister, Annabel. She is a snowboard racer as well. Our races are at a completely different area, but we try to snowboard together whenever we can, and we always give each other tips and tricks.

I’m pretty much the only male rider with cerebral palsy. I will say 80 per cent of our field has an amputation below the knee. Our sport is very new and it has grown quite fast. But to me, because I’m the only CP rider, I don’t want the chance to go to and compete in a new disability category by myself. I want a bit of competition in there. 

 Able-bodied people might not know how much the disabled athletes have to overcome to go snowboarding. I do have handicaps in my snowboarding, but I don’t know really what they are, because I was born with CP. I’ve been snowboarding, or I’ve been living with CP all my life, so I actually don’t know anything different. I don’t know what it feels like to be able-bodied or if I’m any different. 

I race for the adrenalin rush. I do love free riding, just carving up the mountains. You feel free. But with racing, it’s really cool when you’re on course, not thinking about anything, your mind’s blank, you see in front of you. It feels like you’re conquering the world.

The X Games is taking disabled athletes more seriously. The first time, it was a bit off-putting. Our event was in it, but confusingly it actually wasn’t a medal event, it was just like a demo before the real show. It definitely felt a little bit tokenistic. This is the first time it is actually going to be live with a full ceremony, band music and crowds.

My parents are still my behind-the-scenes coaches. My mum and dad do go on tour some of the time. They went to quite a lot of the races last year when I was in my first year. Now I’m more experienced they’re coming to the big events – the X Games, and the world championships in Spain.

 They do get me up, get me ready. They’re not really on-snow coaches, but they still help with the psychology side of things. It’s on the preparation stuff – “Are you ready? Is this course good enough? Are you feeling nervous? Are you excited? How are you?”  

Definitely one of my biggest fans and supporters is the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. They’ve done a lot for me. I was there as a kid when I was much younger, they helped me out a lot, and now they’ve kind of helped me again. And I am very thankful.

My biggest fear isn’t in snowboarding. I like to say I’m fearless. I like to say I’m not scared of anything and I just take it all in.

My schoolmates love my sports career, but they’re all a bit jealous of me because I do get quite a lot of time off school. But that’s in a friendly way. They’re all supportive and they’re all really friendly.

I’m 18 when the next Paralympics happen. So I just want to grow stronger, do my HSC. I want to be at the top of my game and be as capable as I can. And I will see what happens when I get there.

My free-ride board is normally a bit larger than me. They don’t really come in my size. But with my racing I am lucky enough to get custom-made boards that fit my size.

This week's highlights… 

• Soccer: A-League

Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City FC

Today, 7.30pm, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

• Basketball: WNBL

Bendigo v Melbourne

Tomorrow, 2pm, Bendigo Stadium

• Rugby Union: Super Rugby

Brumbies v Reds

Friday, 7.40pm, GIO Stadium, Canberra

• Skiing: The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 2015 

Until February 15, Vail/Beaver Creek, Colorado

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 7, 2015 as "Small wonder". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.