Ripa on Summer, Winter Paralympic Games experiences

An insight into the mind of the Swedish cross-country skiing Paralympic champion who had a former career as a swimmer. 02 Apr 2015
Helene Ripa

Helene Ripa won gold at Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in the women's 15km standing cross-country skiing race and silver in the mixed team relay.

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By Robert Murray | For the IPC

“You have a goal that you want to take a gold medal at the Paralympics because it’s the highest you can do. It was a goal that I had inside me.”

Sweden’s Nordic skiing Paralympic champion Helene Ripa has compared her experiences of Summer and Winter Paralympic Games two decades apart, stating that the standard of para-sport has improved significantly.

“The competition has been harder because the athletes are much, much better now,” Ripa said. “I think that’s a good thing.”

After undergoing an amputation of her right leg to beat cancer at a young age, Ripa focused all of her rehabilitation efforts on swimming, eventually showing enough promise to be named to the Swedish swimming team for the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games.

However with no medals to show, Ripa chose to step away from the sport and focus on her personal life.

Fast forward a decade later and the 42-year-old was introduced to Nordic skiing by her husband.

“It was the freedom of being out and to actually be able to travel and do a long journey on skis and being outside in the snow, because it’s very hard to be on the snow with a prosthetic,” Ripa said, describing what grew her passion for cross- country skiing after that first encounter.

As it turns out, it was the only spark Ripa needed in order to rekindle her competitive spirit. After connecting with members of the Swedish para-Nordic team, Ripa made her international debut during the 2012-13 IPC Cross Country World Cup season, finishing seventh out of 19 ranked skiers in the world.

Entering international competition a year out from Sochi 2014 also provided Ripa with a chance to compete at the 2013 IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships, conveniently located in the Swedish ski resort of Solleftea.

Ripa did not waste any time in making her presence known to the rest of the world on home snow, taking gold in the women’s cross-country sprint classic standing and claiming bronze in the middle distance race. It was just the beginning.

“I think that I was more surprised in Solleftea that I did so good, but that actually got me started thinking about medals at the Paralympics too,” Ripa said.

“You have a goal that you want to take a gold medal at the Paralympics because it’s the highest you can do. It was a goal that I had inside me.”

A year later in Russia, Ripa roared to the top of the podium in the long distance cross-country classic race and composed one half of the Swedish team, featuring Zebastian Modin and then guide Albin Ackerot, that captured silver in the mixed relay.

Having witnessed Ripa’s rise since coming aboard, Fredrik Uusitalo, Sweden’s head coach, has seen Ripa use what celebrity status she has gained from her successes in order to thrust her team into the national spotlight.

“Sweden is a small team, but Helene meant a lot, not only for the para-team, but everyone watching her at home” Uusitalo said.

“We have been to training camps together with the national teams and she is great.”

As events come and go on the Nordic skiing calendar, Ripa remains - for now.

With each new challenge, she has persevered, battling against her competitors and coming out on top.

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