After being severely injured in a skiing accident whilst a Physical Training Instructor Sean Rose was determined not to lose sport from his life after Service. He has since become the most successful seated skier in British sporting history.
Tell me about your Military background
I joined up as a RAF Physical Training Instructor in 1989. I had a fantastic career as a Corporal.
Part of my job was as a ski instructor and I was out teaching a group of guys one day and I was the one who fell over. I was on a piste I’d skied a thousand times. I hit some wet snow, it stopped my feet dead and threw me over the front of my skis and I (where everyone else had gone over and skidded, I didn’t skid but) went in head first like a javelin.
I couldn’t feel my legs any more. The weight of my legs had crushed the vertebrae in my back on impact.
I remember all of the guys kicked snow on me and laughed at me and I just had to say “Boys, I’ve broke my back”. S**t happens…
How was your subsequent resettlement?
I spent four and a half months in a German hospital and having been a PTI I was happy that I could just keep training and get fit. I came back and went to Headley Court for three months and they were brilliant. There were loads of lads down there that I had joined up with who were PTIs there doing rehabilitation.
I was very fortunate that the RAF Benevolent Fund looked after me and got me a bungalow. I gained my independence and I got a job managing a brand new watersports centre on the River Tees. I wheeled into an empty building and had to put in the office systems, the bar, the gym, the function room and everything else that goes along with it.
So you utilised lots of your organisational skills etc…
It’s funny; you don’t realise at the time how much the Military is giving you with life skills, drive preparation and planning, all of that sort of stuff.
When you come out of the other side of an injury you go back into that mindset and say OK, let’s crack on: how am I going to do it? How am I going to plan it? And then you just make it happen. The Military teaches you that from day one.
How did you become a Paralympian?
There were three of us going around the world. We’d just rock up to different venues and call ourselves the ‘British Ski team’. As I started to get better results , Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK) developed and organised grants through TASS and Sports Lottery funding, also building better relations with Sport England and ParalympicsGB.
I was selected for the Turin 2006 games, and was only half a second off a medal in the Downhill. That spurred me on to find the marginal gains. By 2010 it was all falling into place, winning Britain’s first ever World Cup Gold medal. (I’d pretty much won everything. I was Britain’s first ever world cup gold medallist. It was a dream just a couple of years after my accident.)
I turned up at the 2010 Paralympics as favourite for the Speed events but three days before the biggest race of my life I crashed at 60mph and separated the tissues in my shoulder. They strapped me up and I was a second off a medal in the Downhill and even winning the Super G before I crashed again. It just wasn’t meant to be.
You’ve kind of resettled again outside of sport. Did your Military resettlement help with that?
Definitely. It was harder turning from being an athlete to a real civvy than it was during my accident to be honest. I don’t think I’ll get over it for the rest of my life but you learn to live with it. It hurts even now that I didn’t quite achieve what I wanted.
What’s your best advice to Service-leavers?
The one thing that got me through it after my accident is that you can’t turn back time so why worry about it? You either give up or get on.
You’re now part of the team covering the Paralympics for Channel 4…
I was a Channel 4 commentator at Sochi and I’m going to be a roving reporter across a number of different sports and do a bit of punditry in Rio.