Juggling student life with training as an elite sportsman is a real balancing act – as University of Central Lancashire undergraduate Alex Clarke knows well.
The 22-year-old business management scholar has spent his life struggling to overcome adversity and is now scaling new heights.
He was diagnosed with diplegic cerebral palsy at the age of two and his parents were told he would never walk.
But not only has Alex proved the experts wrong, he’s on his way to landing himself a place in the British Disabled Ski Team and is aiming to race downhill on skis in the Winter Paralympics.
Alex, who is in his final year at UCLan, said: “My dad was really determined I would walk. He got me walking across the lounge floor, then I started balancing and by the time I was six I could walk with the aid of a little frame.”
His “big breakthrough” came when his dad encouraged him to sit on an off-road motorcycle.
Alex said: “As a family we were very much into motorcycles and trials.
“We had a little bike and my dad said to try sitting on it and that was it. It really helped my balancing.”
As he moved up to high school his physiotherapist got him crutches instead of the frame and Alex said: “I had so much freedom.”
However, it was after enrolling at UCLan – and hearing about the snowsports team – that the daredevil in him really came out.
Alex said: “My problem is I like to try everything and I was introduced to the team for an adaptive lesson
“Everyone was really supportive. Two years ago I tried my first sitting ski lesson at Chill Factore.”
But that wasn’t enough. Alex wanted to go away with the team but because he didn’t want to have to rely on someone being with him all the time, he was determined to try to stand up skiing and he well and truly caught the bug.
He said: “It was amazing. The sense of freedom from skiing is incredible. I managed to have three lessons and fell in love with it – especially skiing down the mountains.”
The biomechanics of weight transfer involved in the sport worked wonders for his balance problems and his physio was delighted with the impact.
Since then, Alex has been spotted by the Disability Snow Sports and spent two weeks this summer race training with the squad on a glacier above Myerhofen in Austria.
Next month he will spend three days getting his race training/classification and two days racing in the IPCAS Race League (International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing) at Landgraaf in Holland – home to one of the biggest indoor ski slopes in the world. Alex said: “I am really looking forward to Landgraaf as this will be my first real race. I am trying to practice as much as I can.”
Besides keeping on top of his university studies, assignments and exams, he trains five times a week at the Ironman Gym in Preston, and trains with Disability Sport UK at the Chill Factore at least once a week.
The determined young man has his sights set on competing in the Winter Paralympics and is hoping to raise enough financial support to make his dream come true.
He’s also keeping a blog so people can chart his progress at www.alexclarkeskier.blogspot.co.uk.