“If somebody had come to me when I was sitting in my hospital bed and told me that one day I’d be on a Paralympic podium with a gold medal, I wouldn’t have known what to say. Things have been unreal, from my accident to this day."
Matti Suur-Hamari of Finland is relishing the current season. “The snowboard world championships are in Finland, and that’s just super cool,” says the 32-year old. “They’re pretty much in my backyard. What better thing can you imagine? It’s obviously my big goal for the season to do well.
“I’m not sure what routes they’ll set for the course, so I don’t think it will be a particular advantage for me, but having my family and friends cheering me on will be cool. And it’s so tight among the top competitors – you can’t say I’ll win. But it’s good that the competition is so close.”
Milestone in the making
Suur-Hamari is well set for success on his home slopes, having won both SB-LL2 races when Pyha hosted the World Cup last month. But the Championships in March will take on a whole new significance for the Finn: 2019 is a decade since the fateful motorcycle accident in which he lost his left leg below the knee. He can’t quite believe the journey he’s been on since.
“If somebody had come to me when I was sitting in my hospital bed and told me that one day I’d be on a Paralympic podium with a gold medal, I wouldn’t have known what to say. Things have been unreal, from my accident to this day.
“I remember having no idea of what the future would be. I didn’t know anybody with a prosthetic leg. I typed into Google, ‘What can amputee people do?’ and I found videos of Evan Strong skating and snowboarding.
“I thought, ‘Alright’, because I’d been snowboarding since 1999, and it was my big love. I knew that if someone else with a prosthetic could do this, I had no excuse not to. I thought, ‘I need to work hard on this and make it happen’.”
Journey to gold
Work hard he did. Matti had to learn the art of boarding afresh, but gradually clawed his way up the rankings: finishing 11th at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, becoming a world champion in snowboard-cross in 2015, and a double gold medallist (banked slalom and snowboard-cross) at the 2017 World Championships.
He crowned everything with his first Paralympic title, in snowboard-cross, at the PyeongChang 2018 Games.
The ten months since have been pretty hectic. “It started at the airport in Korea. Finnair upgraded us to business class, then I was told the pilot wanted to meet me. I went up to the cabin, he showed me all the controls, and we pretty much landed the plane to Helsinki together.
“Then we got off the plane and the president of Finland was waiting. And then after that there was a lot of hassle, but positive hassle. I realised I was super tired after the season. I’d worked so hard for four years, I needed a break. So I took some surfing and biking trips, and really relaxed.”
Everything is possible
The full-circle journey of watching Evan Strong on YouTube – and then beating him to Paralympic gold – is a great one, but he’s not sure where it leads next.
“It was great because Evan became my idol, but now we’re friends. It was amazing to race against someone who inspired you to get out of bed and get active again. And now that’s what we all have to be in all Paralympic sport – people who give messages to others that everything is possible. For now, I’m just taking things season by season.”