25 February 2022

Paralympic skier Steve Arnold admits he had no ambitions to be an elite athlete

25 February 2022

Wounded war hero Steve Arnold admits he never wanted to be an elite athlete as he sets out to emulate the exploits of fellow injured veterans on his Paralympics debut.

Arnold’s life changed irreversibly in 2011 when the Army career he loved ended after he stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving with the Royal Engineers in Afghanistan.

The 42-year-old – who followed his grandfather, father and brother into the military – lost both legs above the knee.

Following a lengthy rehabilitation, the former staff sergeant has reinvented himself as a Nordic skier and was on Tuesday named in Great Britain’s team for Beijing, where he will compete in biathlon and cross-country events between March 4 and 13.

“I loved that job – that’s probably only the regret I have, I didn’t get to do my 22 years’ service because it got cut short,” Arnold told the PA news agency.

“Initially sport was just a thing to get me fit and healthy again after getting injured.

“There are a lot of crossovers between sport and the military: how tough it is, the good times, the bad times, the disappointing times, so it’s definitely helped me with this new career, as I call it.

“This wasn’t my be-all and end-all, I never wanted to be an elite athlete, I’m just lucky to have the chance – I found a sport that I was pretty good at.

“The military has definitely helped me to get to where I am now.

“Being in a military rehab centre, all the like-minded people, all the banter, all the mickey-taking, that got me through the early tough days.”

Arnold watched on with pride last year as ex-servicemen Jaco Van Gass (cycling), Stuart Robinson (wheelchair rugby) and Micky Yule (powerlifting) each won medals at the summer Paralympics in Tokyo.

He has personal bonds with the three men and was inspired by their achievements.

“I actually served with Micky in the Royal Engineers, I know Jaco from rehab, and I know Stu from the Invictus Games and being in and around Help for Heroes,” he said.

Steve Arnold served with Micky Yule in the Royal Engineers (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

“Definitely it does drive me on and gives me determination. If those guys can achieve what they achieved then why can’t I and other people like myself?

“It was incredible to see them, really proud of them, honoured to know them and hopefully my name can go up next to theirs after Beijing.

“A medal is not out of the question. But, realistically, top 10 – I’d love to be in that top 10.”

Arnold had never skied before his catastrophic injuries. On leaving the Army, he initially took up hand cycling through charity Help for Heroes and was part of Prince Harry’s first Invictus Games in 2014, where he won silver and bronze medals.

In 2017, he was selected as vice-captain for the UK team and claimed a pair of golds in Toronto.

It's such a tough sport. It hurts every single race. I don't know if that's quite weird but I actually quite like that

Despite only taking up his current sport in 2017, Arnold attempted to make it into the ParalympicsGB squad for PyeongChang the following year.

Narrowly missing out has fuelled his motivation and he relishes the punishing challenge of pushing himself through the pain barrier.

“It’s such a tough sport,” he said. “It hurts every single race, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing the 800-metre or the 18-kilometre race. I don’t know if that’s quite weird but I actually quite like that.

“PyeongChang was a dream, I tried my hardest, almost made it. I was absolutely gutted when I didn’t get selected, it took me a couple of months to get over it but, looking back on it now, it probably was the right decision.

“This is the one that is definitely going to count.”

Arnold, top right, met wheelchair rugby Paralympic gold medallist Stuart Robinson, bottom left, through their involvement in the Invictus Games and charity Help for Heroes (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

Arnold has gained further incentive since his failure to make it to South Korea after he and wife Jessica became parents in September 2018, with the arrival of daughter Elizabeth.

“That’s one of the main reasons I do this, to make my daughter proud,” he said.

“She’s young now, she doesn’t really understand too much about what it’s all about, all she knows is that daddy goes away a lot skiing.

“To see her little face in a few years when she understands it, that’s what drives me and keeps me going.”

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