“I was doing snowboard half-pipe 10 years ago and I crashed my knee, so I stopped but I found snowboard again.”
Japan’s Gurimu Narita felt like his old self when he went down the banked slalom course of the recently concluded 2017 World Para Snowboard Championships in Big White, Canada.
It reminded him of when he was an able-bodied snowboarder. He especially loved doing half-pipe.
That is what the first 13 banked turns of the course felt like, he said.
And the feeling was even better when he learned he won the bronze medal in the men’s SB-LL1 category.
“I was doing snowboard half-pipe 10 years ago and I crashed my knee, so I stopped but I found snowboard again,” Narita said.
He found it only last year.
Narita damaged the nerves in his left calf bone, resulting in paralysis in his left knee after an accident during a trampoline training session for snowboard in 2013.
He tried Para athletics in 2015.
But his love for winter sports rekindled, especially since his older brother and sister are also snowboarders who represented Japan during the Turin 2006 Olympic Games.
So last year, he searched “Paralympic” and “snowboard-cross” on the internet and found the sport did exist.
“I thought ‘Oh really?’ I can compete at the Paralympics? And there is a snowboard-cross division?’ So I said yeah I want to try,” Narita said.
His first ever World Para Snowboard competition was last November at the Europa Cup in Landgraaf, the Netherlands, followed by two World Cups all in banked slalom; he just missed the podium all three times.
Late January, however, the 23-year-old got his break when he won all three snowboard-cross races at the NorAm and World Cups in Lake Tahoe, California, USA.
Narita admitted snowboard-cross is more his discipline. But he fell down during one of his heats and was knocked out of medal contention for Big White 2017.
Come the banked slalom, he said he was not expecting a medal because of his results from Landgraaf. But when he finished his last run and went over to check his time, another athlete told him he was in third place.
“Third place?” he repeated with a stunned look.
His time of 1:08.40 knocked off the USA’s Evan Strong, the reigning Worlds silver medallist.
More riders still needed to finish their runs, but the top three were pretty much decided.
With a giant smile, he stood next to Finland’s Matti Suur-Hamari and Great Britain’s Owen Pick, the respective gold and silver medallists, at the bottom of the course, waiting to officially celebrate his first ever Worlds medal.
“I like snowboard-cross and I didn’t really like banked slalom because it’s too tight,” Narita said. “But now I got third place, and I was really surprised, and I’m really happy to get this podium.”
Complete results from the 2017 World Para Snowboard Championships can be found at BigWhite2017.com.