The merino wool slippers might not be needed when Latvia's wheelchair curler Polina Rozkova lines up alongside her history-making teammates at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
Skip Rozkova suffers badly from the cold and when she is training at home in Riga needs lots of extra clothing.
To her surprise and delight, she discovered the iconic Ice Cube venue in Beijing was warmer when Latvia competed in the World Championships in China last October.
“All the time my legs are cold because of circulation,” Rozkova explained. “I don’t even wear shoes. I have slippers made from Merino wool and I play in that. In Latvia we only have four degrees (C) in the hall so every other hall seems so warm now. In Beijing I didn’t have to use my vest as it was so hot. Everything is so warm and nice.”
Rozkova, who was paralysed in a snowboarding accident in 2009, shows more emotion when talking about the Ice Cube than when she acknowledges Latvia’s first ever appearance at Paralympic Wheelchair Curling.
‘Emotions? I didn’t feel a lot of emotions. My emotions were not so strongly expressed because it was my target to be there and it was just one step closer to my personal dream. I felt ‘good job, well done’ but it wasn’t ‘oh my God we are making history’.
“I did an OK job. I had problems with my health and now I hope that I will be healthy and we can bring our best level to the performance. I want to enjoy this competition and that’s my target.
“But my impression of the Ice Cube was just ‘wow’. It was a high level of organisation, an amazing building and I was so happy to be there.”
Rozkova, who competed at Rio 2016 in fencing, likes a challenge. She works for the welfare ministry in Latvia, helping to organise accessible environments and raise awareness of wheelchair users.
“I worked a lot of years as an accountant after my injury, my first degree. Then I had an economics degree and now a Master’s in economics and my thesis was higher education opportunities for people with disability in Latvia. I am growing all the time, I try to learn something new all the time,” added Rozkova, who also managed to fit in an 18-month course in dress design even though she could not sew.
Her immediate focus is Beijing. Preparation has been basic because of a lack of facilities in Riga but Rozkova believes the time is right for this team to blossom.
“We only have one ice hall with two sheets. It is quite an old building and it wasn’t built for curling. It is hard to get there for training because it is so busy. But we have spent so long in curling, we have experience as we get older.
“The guys are over 40 and I am getting there so we need to do it now. It is the right time. I want to have another life off the ice.”
Rozkova marks the anniversary of her accident every year and admits that snowboarding will always be special to her. Just thinking about what happened spurs her on to new challenges.
“I was an aerobic coach before injury, I was in sport all the time. I spent a lot of time trying to repair my own life. I didn’t realise I had so severe an injury, I didn’t realise I had a spinal cord injury.
“I thought ‘ok I will have this rehab and I am walking’. Thirteen years and still I am not walking. I go every year on rehab and make better my blood circulation.
“I am still in love with snowboarding. It is still my passion. I would love to try it. We only have two winter sports – curling and bobsleigh – so we don’t have anything accessible. Maybe one day.”