27 March 2018
Blesma Activities report: La Plagne Ski Trip 2018
"For the first time since I was injured four years ago, I forgot I was paralysed! It was just a brilliant feeling.”
Glen has recently returned from January’s skiing trip to La Plagne in France, and his experience is far from unique. The Blesma trip is a perennial favourite for a reason: there’s nothing quite like thundering through freshly fallen snow, breathing in the crisp Alpine air, and marvelling at the magnificent views. It’s good for the mind, body and soul, and it ticks so many boxes for the Association: Members help Members (in the roles of instructors and assistants), whilst people who take part often get so much out of the trip that they decide to change their lives when they get back home.
Paralysed in a scaffolding accident in 2014 after leaving the Royal Anglians, he’d been struggling mentally before the trip. “This was my first ever Blesma activity, and I’d been suffering so badly with depression that I actually called my BSO and told him I couldn’t go,” he admits. “I was so nervous. Since my accident, I’ve not been on a plane, I’ve kept myself local. I was nervous about the flight, the baggage, everything. But a couple of my paralysed friends who knew what a state I was in, rang me up and told me; ‘Go skiing! If you don’t like it, you’ll never have to talk to us again, but we promise you’ll love it!’”
Glen eventually decided to join up with the 23 other Members (the group included five wheelchair users) on the Alpine adventure, and he soon realised that his mates were right. “The whole thing flowed seamlessly,” he says. “The effort the entire crew put in for us was unbelievable. We were so well looked after – my bags were even in my room when I arrived! Everyone fitted in, you were accepted right away, and the skiing shoved the depression out of me. I enjoyed myself so much.”
"EVERYONE FITS IN, YOU’RE ACCEPTED RIGHT AWAY, AND THE SKIING JUST SHOVED THE DEPRESSION OUT OF ME. I ENJOYED MYSELF SO MUCh"
Royal Signals Veteran Olivia Zambonini
What kind of challenges did you face when it came to getting on skis? I have MS, which means I suffer from a lot of pain. I was initially supposed to do sit-skiing, but I decided that if I can still walk, I should give standing skiing a go. I didn’t know if I would manage, but I like to try. It was hard and painful, but I did it and I loved it.
You’re also partially blind, was it tricky to stay safe? I can’t see out of my right eye, so I was very conscious of that! If I was going from right to left, I could see skiers, but if I was going from left to right, I couldn’t see a thing! My instructor was brilliant though, and he guided me so well.
What was your highlight? Being out in the fresh air and sunshine all day every day. By the end, we were doing some steeper runs, and I’d say that I did fantastically well! I was very proud of myself. I also got on great with everyone – we had a good group.
You’re a great example of not giving in to a disease… I was diagnosed in 2003, whilst serving on an FTRS (Full Time Reserve Service) with the Royal Signals. I’m 43 now and every day is painful, but I’m determined not to lie down to MS. I get up and do as much as I can, and I just have to deal with it. Blesma is brilliant for helping people like me. I’m hoping to go on a skydiving trip with them soon.
"It ended up being a week of camaraderie, excellent socialising, and helping each other out – all the best bits of the military, without the pressure"
Royal Navy Veteran Archie Norton
How did you find the trip? Great! I’m a below-knee amputee and my goal was to get moving like a regular skier so I could book a skiing holiday with my family and friends.
How did you get on? I was tentative at first – I’m 68 and I’ve not skied since my school days – but with the right tuition, you just blossom. I had a oneto-one ski instructor for the week and he knew when to push me. I progressed without realising, and it gave me huge satisfaction!
What was your highlight from the trip? In addition to the skiing, we did lots of other activities, and the atmosphere in the group was special. But for me, the best moment was going down quite a steep run.
So by the end you were ready for some serious speed? By the last day, I was ready to hurtle down! I was quite giddy and elated by the end, it actually took a couple of days to wind down.
Not bad going for 68... At first, I felt a little guilty about going on the trip and wondered if someone younger should have been skiing in my place. But Blesma were wonderful. They said: ‘No, we’re a charity for all ages.’ Giving someone an experience they’ve never had later in life is a wonderful gift!
Skiing helped my rehabilitation a lot, so it's brilliant to meet new people and help others in the same way I was helped
Activities Manager Jess March thought the trip was a big success. “La Plagne is ideal,” she says. “It was our second year there, and we will definitely be going back. There is so much disabled access, plus it has one of the top adapted ski schools in Europe. It covers every form of disability, which is perfect for us, as is the hotel.
“We didn’t have a single bad review from Members, and it was great to have some new faces come along. A few of those first-timers have already applied to take part in other activities, which is fantastic.”
But the real measure of a trip’s success is what the participants take home with them. “It has given me impetus to ski more,” says Jimmy. “I’d like to take some more lessons in UK snowdomes and eventually be able to go on a skiing holiday with my wife, just the two of us. It’s a good goal to work towards.” The trip changed Glen’s outlook as well. “It has already helped me with my depression,” he concludes.
“It’s made me rethink a lot of things. I’m now looking at buying a tent and taking my kids camping this summer, and I am considering trying hand biking and maybe doing a Blesma bike trip, too. Think about it: I couldn’t ski when I was walking, but now I’m paralysed, I can! If anyone has any doubts – like I did – about doing a Blesma trip, they should call me!”