Golden girl is an inspiration
Ribble Valley resident Simon Clarke, the proud father of decorated Winter Paralympic skier Jennifer Kehoe, is bursting with pride after witnessing the Great Britain star make history once again.
The visually impaired guide, who aids Menna Fitzpatrick, had the golden touch in Pyeongchang as the pair became the nation’s most successful athletes at the Games.
Having taken two silvers in the super combined and giant slalom respectively, along with bronze in the super-G, they then commanded centre of the podium with an exhilarating finish in the women’s slalom to see off Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova and Natalia Subrtova by the most slender of margins.
Mr Clarke, who lives in Clitheroe, was in South Korea to see the action and described the emotion of the event and the scenes that marked the result.
“We are all exceptionally proud of what Menna and Jen have achieved, and PyeongChang lifts their success to a completely different level,” he said.
“The final race on the Sunday morning was unbelievably exciting. Unlike other ski races, the VI events are held in absolute silence, to ensure communication between guide and skier is not interrupted.
“No shouting, cheering, cowbells, whistles or whooping until both skiers have crossed the finish line. It is very tense.
“Then, for a few seconds, we have to release all the excitement and emotion that we have been storing up as they descend, returning to complete silence as the next pair sets off.”
Jennifer and Menna, who only has 5% vision in one eye, and has been partnered with the serving Army Officer in the Royal Engineers since 2015, made history two years ago as the first British skiers to win the overall World Cup visually impaired title in Aspen, Colorado.
Now, having etched their names in to the record books for a second time, they’ll fly to Beijing in 2022 as champions.
“What an amazing experience,” said Mr Clarke. “As Farkasova crossed the line the crowd was in uproar.
“The score board showed the magic number two, leaving Menna and Jen in first place by exactly 0.66 seconds, taking the gold medal as Paralympic champions!
“The GB contingent screamed and whooped, releasing all the pent-up tension and emotion in a wild cacophony of support.
“Each run was around 60 seconds from top to bottom, but it had seemed like a lifetime to us.
“Ade Adepitan, from Channel 4, had agreed to broadcast from within our ranks for the final race – I am not sure if he was able to make himself heard over the racket we were making!”
He added: “It was a very emotional moment for everyone and I am certain most of us shed more than the odd tear of joy and excitement!
“At the medal ceremony later that afternoon, we all gathered and sang the National Anthem with great gusto as the Union Jack was raised over the ski slopes.
“It was the culmination of a most splendidly successful week for Paralympics GB. This was my first attendance at a Paralympics and I have to say that it was so inspiring.
“t was so uplifting to see and to support the athletes in this way. If the chance arises, I would certainly recommend it, and Beijing 2022 beckons!
“I am so proud of Jen, of what she has done and for what she has helped Menna to achieve.
“We all are looking forward to seeing Jen back in the Ribble Valley soon. Their demanding schedule means that they can spend up to seven months of the year training, mostly abroad, which leaves little time for visiting. But we will certainly enjoy our time with Jen when she comes back!”