One door closes, another opens
PUBLISHED: 11:20 27 October 2015 | UPDATED: 11:20 27 October 2015
His first tour in Afghanistan left Bury St Edmunds soldier Owen Pick with horrific injuries. Now instead of an army career, he's chasing a Paralympic dream. Dave Gooderham went to meet him
At just 18 years old, Owen Pick could have given up.
His first ever tour of Afghanistan ended when he stood on an improvised explosive device (IED) – an incident that would ultimately cost him his leg from the knee down.
The youngster could have been forgiven for thinking life had given him a raw deal and that his future was bleak. But Owen is made of very different, very tough stuff.
Five years on from his life-changing injury, the ex-soldier is targeting the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and using that fateful moment to fuel his ambition.
Owen, an adaptive snowboardercross, admitted: “I would say that it changed my life for the better – I will always say that 100%.
“I enjoyed being part of the Army, but I now get to travel around the world and I have made some awesome friends in some amazing places.
“In a funny way it seems like there has been a positive outcome from the accident.” At just 23, Owen speaks with maturity when talking about the incident and passion when discussing his Paralympic dream. He admits the two are intrinsically linked as he casts his mind back to the explosion.
He revealed: “I was walking on patrol when we came into contact. We got it down to one building, but when I went into there I stood on an IED. The next thing I remember was waking up in hospital two days later saying hello to my mum and dad.
“Initially, they saved the leg, but after 18 months I decided to get rid of it because it wasn’t working well.”
Owen is currently ranked seventh in the world for adaptive snowboarding – a modified version of the sport with changes in equipment, rules and technical specifications – and spends six months competing all over the world to prove his worth to Team GB.
“I am definitely confident I can make the Winter Paralympics,” he states. “I was delighted to finish the year seventh in the world – hopefully I am making a name for myself as ‘one to watch’.”
In addition to his snowboarding prowess with Team GB, Owen, who lives in Red Lodge, near Bury St Edmunds, is an international wakeboarder, going up against top class boarders from all over the world.
Once again, it was a direct result of his injury that caused Owen to become a board sports enthusiast.
Having never stepped on a wakeboard before, he has now carved out a reputation as one of the best with an impressive array of world class tricks, styles and stunts in competitions across the world.
So much so, that he spends his summers teaching others the intricacies of a sport that he describes as “snowboarding on water”.
“Prior to being blown up I’d never done any board sports in my life other than standing on my mate’s skateboard and falling off a lot.
“After getting injured I had to go through rehab. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life at that point.
“Then I got into wakeboarding. I was taken down to a lake as an activity. I started doing a sit down water ski, then I saw wakeboarding going on and thought it looked really cool.
“That summer I went to the lake a lot and worked, coaching other disabled guys. Wakeboarding became something I loved doing.”
In a bid to protect his prosthetic limb, Owen tapes a plastic bag around it to stop water from getting in, admitting the process is a little “trial and error”. He could of course be forgiven for having dark times, for thinking of what might have been.
“Of course I’ve had bad days, I’ve had difficult times when it comes to my leg – I was very young when the accident happened and that was the end of my army career.
“But at the end of the day as one door closed another one opened. The choice was made for me and I had to get on with it, I had to keep living. I try and stay positive and see how much I gained from my loss.
“I can either sit and mope – be upset about it, be depressed and do nothing about it – or I look at it and think, ‘I’ve got a new toy here, what can I do with it? How far can I push the limits?’ How many people are going to tell me I can’t do it and how many times am I going to prove them wrong? That’s my way of everyday going, ‘it’s not that bad’.”
It is this remarkable willpower that spurs him on towards his Paralympic dream. And what will he be thinking if he makes the Team GB squad and takes his place in South Korea?
“I would have spent four years trying to get there and all the blood, sweat and tears would have been worth it. It would be like ‘job done’.”