Champion snowboarder and Australia’s Winter Paralympics opening ceremony flagbearer Joany Badenhorst on the joys of proving her doubters wrong. By Richard Cooke.


Full board: Joany Badenhorst, 23, Para-snowboarder

If you watch too much of the Winter Olympics before your performance, it can get under your skin. It can spark a nervousness before you really need that nervousness. It’s great to be there – I’m there with some of my best friends and I want to see them compete – but it’s also important for things to happen at the right time.

Watching the women’s snowboard slopestyle [at last month’s Olympics] was difficult. There were a lot of risk factors, there was quite a high wind, and to see these people struggle with what they are trained for – it wasn’t easy. I could see the nervousness in them, and could kind of feel the tension from everyone. That’s exactly what you don’t want. So we switched over to watch curling.

I competed in athletics before making the transition to snowboarding. It was a completely different world to what I have now. I didn’t have a team to train with. I didn’t have that kind of support, because where I was living at the time was quite rural.

I got forced into retirement because of an injury. Physically it was really tough. Mentally it was exhausting. No matter how well I did in the sport, I never really felt like it was my sport. I missed out on qualifying for the team going to London. I needed something different.

Snowboarding is the exact opposite. The team environment – you support one another when you race. It has those elements I’ve always missed. It’s completely different, but in a really good way. I think I do better as a winter athlete. When it came to being an amputee, I had to learn so many things by myself. And when it came to sport, I was missing encouragement.

I saw snow for the first time when I was 12 years old, after losing my leg. It was in Lesotho, near the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. I actually didn’t learn to snowboard until I saw snow for the second time. I was 19 years old, and I’d never snowboarded and never skied. So I’m definitely not the snow baby. And not used to cold temperatures.

I did not naturally take to it. You know how some skaters or surfers just take to it? I did not do that. My journey into snowboarding was a very harsh one.

I have no feeling in my front leg. Let’s just say that going down the mountain, not knowing what your front foot is doing and not being able to control it can be hazardous. A snowboarding leg doesn’t exist. You have to customise it and build that from absolute scratch. The leg itself has to be constantly adapted. And so your style has to adapt to it. And then your body adapts to it.

It was really, really difficult to mentally prepare myself for constant failure. Like, constant failure. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for the first two years. Then physically, my body needed to be able to cope with what was happening to it. So the only way to do that is to develop this sixth sense, to look for other signs of when you’re doing it right and when you’re doing it wrong.

I know that if I’m being too aggressive on the hill section for example, my front leg starts shaking just from the vibrations. I’m very lucky with the way that I learnt how to snowboard. I honestly can’t imagine athletes doing this without the help that I got.

My coach went to a prosthetics company in Germany to learn about prosthetics. He had never even had a legless athlete. And he went and did that so he could 100 per cent verbalise to me what I should be feeling. He snowboards, this is what he feels when he does that, what would an amputee feel? He would translate that to me. I’m so lucky that he was able to do that and think outside the box.

This might sound like a cliché but honestly I’ve had so many failures in my life, from losing my leg, I’d learnt to take it with a really big grain of salt. I don’t like being proven wrong.

I was lucky with my mum and dad. There was never anything they thought I couldn’t do. I grew up with friends who had never had a friend with one leg. By the time my accident had come around, I had a lot of people saying, “Oh, you can’t do that. You can’t dance anymore. You can’t ride a horse anymore. You need two legs.” It became about proving them wrong and proving to myself that I could do whatever, regardless. It’s always been about proving things to myself. If I prove someone else wrong as well, then that’s just a bit sweeter.


This week’s highlights…

• Paralympic Winter Olympics: PyeongChang 2018

Until March 18, Pyeongchang, South Korea

Horseracing: Super Saturday

Saturday, 1st race 12.15pm (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

• NRL: Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters

Saturday, 4.30pm (AEDT), ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Cricket: Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Day 2

Saturday, 7pm (AEDT), St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth

Soccer: A-League – Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners

Saturday, 7pm (AWST), Nib Stadium, Perth

Cricket: Women’s ODI Series – Australia v India

Monday, 2.30pm (AEDT), Vadodara International Cricket Stadium, Gujarat, India

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 10, 2018 as "Full board".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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