London 2012 javelin contender Nathan Stephens is determined to taste Paralympic success – but on the ice, not the field.
The 25-year-old went into last summer’s Games as the javelin world record holder but suffered a cruel blow when his throwing style was judged illegal, and he failed to qualify for the final round.
So when the call came from the British Sledge Hockey Association to help the British team in their bid to qualify for Sochi 2014, Stephens didn’t have to think twice about his answer.
The Bridgend-born athlete joined the Cardiff Huskies sledge hockey side as a youngster shortly after losing his legs in an accident on a railway line and was one of the stars of the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, where he helped the GB squad to seventh.
But he had to put his childhood love for the sport aside as he found success on the athletics field – until now.
This weekend Stephens and the British team will fly back to Turin to compete in a six-team tournament against Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and Sweden with the top three teams qualifying for next year’s Winter Paralympics.
And Stephens is in no doubt that the GB squad have what it takes to make it to their first Winter Games since he last turned out for the side, eight years ago.
“It’s going to be a tough competition but the guys are positive and I know we can do it,” said BT ambassador Stephens, who notched the last Paralympic goal the GB sledge hockey team scored, an extra-time winner in a 2-1 victory over Italy.
“Hopefully they are going to go in underestimating us because we’ve improved so much since the last time we played, and I’ve never played against them before so the team has a whole new dynamic.
“They are not going to know what’s hit them and we’re going to go out fighting because we’ve got nothing to lose, we’re going in as the underdogs.
“If you ask any athlete to get to a Paralympic Games is the pinnacle of their career but especially for the guys in the changing room now who haven’t been to a Games, this is going to be their chance to get there and they are going to be working ten times harder than any other team.
“If we make it to Sochi dreams have come true for some of these guys who never thought they would get to a Paralympic Games this is their opportunity and they are going to grab it with both hands.”
One of the most popular sports at the Paralympic Games, sledge hockey is fast and furious with players using two sticks instead of one to propel themselves around the ice and control the puck.
The GB squad, which also includes three-times sailing Paralympian Stephen Thomas, are entirely self-funded and were struggling to pay for the trip to Turin until BT stepped in to help sponsor the team.
Stephens, who is a BT ambassador, added: “BT has been a support of Paralympic sports since 1989 and now for them to take on board British sledge hockey for me, is phenomenal.
“They’ve helped me throughout my sport for so long and for them to take on my winter sport as well, it’s just an exciting time for me and the guys.
“It’s taken the pressure off by allowing us to go out there and not worry about anything else and now we’re going out there with a new lease of life.”
BT is supporting Nathan Stephens and British Sledge Hockey in their bid to complete at the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi next year. BT has supported the British Paralympic Association since 1989