Sport

Secret Weapon: How An Army Officer Spurred Menna Fitzpatrick To Paralympic Gold

The Army officer who guided partially-sighted skier Menna Fitzpatrick to gold at the Winter Paralympics has revealed they developed a...

The Army officer who guided partially-sighted skier Menna Fitzpatrick to gold at the Winter Paralympics has revealed they developed a special technique to spur them to victory.

Captain Jen Kehoe says a communications code enabled her and her teenage ski partner to save precious seconds on the slopes earlier this year.

The Royal Engineers officer wowed the nation in March, guiding Fitzpatrick to medals in four visually-impaired Alpine ski events in Pyeongchang - including a slalom gold - and helping her become Britain's most-decorated Winter Paralympian.

Visually-impaired Paralympic skier Menna Fitzpatrick with guide Jen Kehoe
Picture: ParalympicsGB

One of the most remarkable parts of their achievements was that they had only been working together for two and half years.

Captain Kehoe told Forces Network one of the secrets of their success could be the special code words she developed to assist Fitzpatrick on the slopes:

"If you imagine, you've got about a second to say something round each gate in slalom, you haven't got time to say a whole sentence.

"So we have to load that single word, or maybe two words at a push, with a huge amount of meaning.

"Behind each word that we say is probably 20 hours of training time, to refine it to what that actually means."

"If I say to Menna 'stand on it', that means there's ice or a really sharp turn and you need to put your body in this position.

"It's so much more than just the word. It may seem like we're just shouting but actually, there's a lot more to it."

The British Army soldier is now back in the gym, at Gibraltar Barracks, Minley, preparing for a new ski season.

She's working on conditioning training with Sport England coach Michael Knott, who's also been working alongside the Army boxing squad.

Using digital technology, she and Menna can work on the same fitness programme without being in the same place.

Visually-impaired Paralympic ski guide Jen Kehoe

The 34-year-old added that there's still some unfinished business, with Menna having underperformed at the last World Championships because of injury.

Now, she and Captain Kehoe would like a few more medals in 2019 to go with their Paralympic titles.

For the Army officer, though, it's also important to leave a legacy for the future, along with the other forces guides.

The pair were both recently appointed MBEs, to cap what's been an amazing year. Captain Kehoe said:

"We have made history, which we're just incredibly proud [of]... [To have] been able to go out there deliver our best performance [was great]."

Pyeongchang also saw Brett Wild, of the Royal Navy, help Millie Knight to three Paralympic medals, while the RAF's Gary Smith also took part alongside Kelly Gallagher.

Captain Kehoe said her and Fitzpatrick want to show that visually-impaired skiers can achieve massive success for Para-sport:

"After London 2012 there was amazing support for the Paralympic community and disabled communities and so... I think Menna and I now have a responsibility to be part of that and to shout about what we've achieved and what other people can go and achieve."