February Meeting 2018
Talk by Talan Skeels-Piggins
Life as a Paraplegic Performance Athlete
Talan is a world champion paraplegic skier and a British Alpine Skier using a sit ski. He began his talk by telling us that he had been a Physical Training Instructor at a state school and that he loved sport and wanted to pass his passion for sport on. He had lived just outside Bath and had a ten year plan to become a head school teacher in Africa. It was while he was riding his motor bicycle on his way to rugby match that the door of a parked car suddenly opened. As a result he was sent spinning to the other side of the road where he was run over by two approaching cars. Talan was totally conscious throughout and with injuries to his shoulder blades and spine, which left him paralysed from the mid-chest down he was taken to the Salisbury Spinal Unit. He was told by the consultant that he only had a slim chance of recovery and his immediate reaction was to think he could not cope with the situation. He asked the doctors to switch off the life support machine.
In May 2003 Talan stopped grieving for the past and accepted life in a wheelchair, looking forward to many things but realised it would take time to cut out the negative thoughts. He accepted his situation and was told to stay in bed which he did for three and a half months but yearned for the fresh air and the world outside. Others on the ward had developed a degree of optimism and convinced him that there were lots of opportunities. One, of whom, in a wheelchair had actually been skiing albeit with miniature crutches and devices under his feet. Talan found initially that his legs would not work but over time and with exercise he was able to sit in a chair. His physical condition further improved so that after six months he was able to thank everybody and leave hospital, albeit in a wheel chair.
Talan thought if he could learn to ski he would be able to change his life and possibly even become a member of the Olympic Paraplegic Team and represent Great Britain. He had always been a person who would do what he said and he would follow these thoughts through.
Firstly he had to break every act of daily life down into manageable stages, for example later during the recovery process he managed to get dressed in a few minutes which earlier had taken 45 minutes and later on he was even able to drive an automatic car. However learning to ski was a considerable challenge.
It was in Windsor Park in America on a skiing trip with a large number of other disabled skiers that he learned to ski but only on a mono sky although any thoughts he had of becoming a member of an Olympic racing team were discouraged. On his first attempt he went three yards and then fell off and this was repeated on his second attempt but on his third attempt he stayed upright for longer and by the sixth day he managed to cruise around the mountain.
Nevertheless he was advised to give up any further thoughts of racing. He did however persevere and joining the British Development Squad went on an adapted skiing programme for the season in Kimberly, Canada. Soon he was able to complete the course and to travel down the mountain and then became a part of the Olympic Paraplegic Team. Talan found, because he had no core stability, when negotiating the narrow gateways, that shoulder straps gave him more control over the ski and water skiing helped to improve his sense of balance. His friends further encouraged him and he took part in a training film. Eventually he could ski in all conditions even when the temperature was minus 25 degrees Centigrade and in the rain. Nevertheless he never gave up learning by experience, was mindful of any injuries he received and was always building up his confidence.
There were problems with funding in that the government was not totally supportive, although he was soon aware of the resort at Serre Chevalier in France where he could ski for three months free of charge and could train with younger skiers. In effect he was self- taught.
In 2010 when racing at his first Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada, he had a good start on the snow but half way down the rain had turned to ice which presented him with problems and he only finished in 25th place in the Super Giant Slalom. He was very upset but was told by the team managers that he had given a very good account of himself and had gained a lot of experience. A few days later he won the next Super Slalom Race, beating his nearest rival by two seconds, and received the European Gold Medal.
In the summer, he wanted to ride and race motorcycles as he had done earlier on and again was discouraged by the Auto-Cycle Union. True to form he came up with a step by step plan to overcome the difficulties, gained his Hill Climb Licence, and in June 2012 took part in his first race overtaking eight of his competitors. He then became a registered Auto Cycle Union instructor and also bought an exact copy of the motorcycle he had been riding when he had had the accident. He called the machine ‘Doris’. He now helps and organises others by running a number of competitions at any one of which there are a number of competitors, six instructors and twenty volunteers
Talan concluded by saying that we all have the power and ability to overcome the difficulties which crop up in every-day life and should keep the momentum of the effort going in a forward direction.
David Richardson thanked him for a deeply moving and modest account of how he had overcome his injuries and how his story is an inspiration to us all.
More about Talan’s activities can be seen at the following web sites:
1: The Little Pearson Inside-an eleven minute documentary about getting on a motorcycle and racing  at https://vimeo.com/109999643
2: Dream The Impossible: a 90 minute feature length film documentary about the race team organised by Talan and which can be seen on You Tube 
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