Magic Menna go­ing for gold

Macclesfield Express - - SEARCH -

WIN­TER SPORTS GARETH EVANS

THE Mac­cles­field area is not with­out its links to sports­men and women who have reached the very top of their pro­fes­sions.

Reg Har­ris, who spent his later years liv­ing here, was a four-time win­ner of the track cy­cling world cham­pi­onships.

A gold post­box stands in the town by way of trib­ute to Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful yachts­man, Mac­cles­field­born Ben Ainslie. And there are oth­ers in Dis­ley and Poyn­ton cel­e­brat­ing the achieve­ments of par­a­lympic cy­cling he­roes Ben and Sarah Storey.

Now we have an­other world cham­pion. And at just 17 she looks set to dom­i­nate her sport for a con­sid­er­able time to come.

Menna Fitz­patrick, a Me­dia Pro­duc­tion and Tech­nol­ogy stu­dent at Mac­cles­field Col­lege, ear­lier this month trav­elled home to Tyther­ing­ton af­ter win­ning the Over­all Women’s Visu­ally Im­paired World Cup alpine ski­ing ti­tle in Aspen, Colorado.

To­gether with her sighted guide, Jen­nifer Ke­hoe, Menna, who has no more than five per cent vi­sion in her right eye and barely any at all in her left, took the world by storm in a se­ries of dis­ci­plines - be­com­ing the first-ever Bri­tish ath­lete to lift the World Cup Globe tro­phy.

It was not sim­ply a case of find­ing room in her lug­gage for the one tro­phy, ei­ther! She also needed to pack a se­cond as new­ly­crowned Gi­ant Slalom World Cham­pion, along with three gold and three sil­ver medals.

If th­ese achieve­ments at such a ten­der age were not al­ready enough, they are made all the more re­mark­able by the fact that merely en­ter­ing the World Cup was not even on Menna’s radar when the re­cent win­ter sea­son be­gan.

As Menna ex­plains: “Both Jen and I were re­ally shocked as we didn’t be­lieve that we could have won it, be­cause it was only our first sea­son ski­ing to­gether.

“And we only qual­i­fied for the World Cup part­way through in Jan­uary.”

The points-sys­tem in par­a­lympic ski com­pe­ti­tion en­ables ath­letes to grad­u­ate be­tween dif­fer­ent lev­els of in­ter­na­tional rac­ing. Menna’s orig­i­nal am­bi­tion for 2015/16 had been to com­pete at Europa Cup level, but her re­sults were so good that she was able to make a spec­u­la­tive World Cup de­but at St Moritz - only a month be­fore head­ing out to Aspen.

Menna races at speeds of up to 100kph some four or five me­tres be­hind her guide, who wears a hi-vis­i­bil­ity jacket.

“Jen is my or­ange blob to fol­low,” she says, “but good com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trust be­tween us is also crit­i­cal.” The pair keep in ‘ra­dio con­tact’ us­ing Blue­tooth head­sets at­tached to their ski hel­mets.

Menna’s first ‘or­ange blob’ was her father, David - dur­ing fam­ily ski­ing hol­i­days that, from the age of five, she spent with him, her mother Mair and el­der sis­ters Elin and Ffion.

“To my hor­ror,” ad­mits David, “I oc­ca­sion­ally for­got she was ski­ing be­hind me, as I went off piste!

“But Menna was al­ways fear­less about go­ing fast. We knew even then that she was a nat­u­ral racer.”

His youngest daugh­ter is quick to agree with him, adding: “I’d just have to be ready for any­thing!”

Menna had not long moved up from Prest­bury Pri­mary School to be­come a Fal­li­b­roome Academy pupil when, as a 12-yearold, her abil­ity was no­ticed by the Bri­tish Dis­abled Ski Team (now ParaSnows­ports GB) dur­ing a tal­ent-spot­ting day at Chill Fac­tore, next door to the Traf­ford Cen­tre.

An in­vi­ta­tion to train with BDST in Aus­tria fol­lowed. And so be­gan in earnest a rig­or­ous regime for Menna of at­tend­ing fur­ther train­ing camps - as well as quite un­holy 6am Sun­day morn­ing prac­tices at Chill Fac­tore!

She started com­pet­ing on the ParaSnows­ports GB De­vel­op­ment Team, with David as her guide, and train­ing across Europe and the UK as she fur­ther honed the fun­da­men­tal skills of a racer over the next four years.

In all this time Menna never ne­glected her stud­ies. And she kept on top of an ever-in­creas­ing home­work load by com­plet­ing it be­tween races or dur­ing ‘down time’ at train­ing camps.

Then, af­ter tak­ing her GSCEs at Fal­li­b­roome, she went to a spe­cial­ist board­ing col­lege for the visu­ally im­paired in Here­ford. And, for a few months at least, the sport­ing side of her life lost its ap­peal.

“I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do,” she ex­plains, “and I fell a lit­tle out of love with ski­ing.

“But a fam­ily ski-trip over Easter got me in­ter­ested again. And I was then in­vited to join the Welsh team for train­ing last sum­mer in the Nether­lands, on the world’s largest in­door slope at Land­graaf - which I re­ally en­joyed.”

With her pas­sion reignited, she teamed up in Novem­ber with Jen­nifer, 32, a racer for the Army Ski Team. And the rest, as they say - and, in­cred­i­bly, within less than four months - was his­tory.

Be­cause the in­di­vid­ual World Cup re­sults were based on per­for­mances in a num­ber of events, Menna and her team were back at their Colorado train­ing camp when they heard that the over­all ti­tle was hers.

“Jen took the call from Aspen,” the new World Cham­pion re­calls. “And the cham­pagne was brought out...”

Paus­ing to turn to her father, the diminu­tive teenager adds, with an imp­ish smile: “... well, for Jen any­way!”

Next sea­son will bring with it a new goal for Menna at the World Cham­pi­onships in Italy. And 2018 per­haps the ul­ti­mate one, when South Korea host the Par­a­lympics.

Max­o­ni­ans may well an­tic­i­pate see­ing more of those gold post­boxes around the town!

●● Menna Fitz­patrick won the World Cup Globe tro­phy

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