Dubai: An Australian surfer who lost his left arm and right hand in a 2014 shark attack won his first World Para Snowboard World Cup gold medal in the 2018/19 series-opener at Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, on Wednesday.
Sean Pollard, 27, from Bunbury, Western Australia, has been competing in the six-stage series for the past three seasons since the incident, but finally completed his remarkable recovery from near-death to winner this week, a feat made even more incredible given that there’s no snow where he’s from.
“It’s been a crazy journey these last few years,” he told Gulf News. “I’ve been lucky to have snowboarding as a therapy to my recovery and the community around para-snowboarding has really helped me with my disability.”
Pollard was out surfing on his own near the remote town of Esperance in south west Australia in October 2014 when he was attacked by two great whites, losing both limbs while trying to defend himself.
It’s all pretty similar, surfing and snowboarding, I’d never snowboarded until after the shark attack, so it’s been quite a fast learning curve for me.
“It was pretty serious, I had to get a lot of blood transfusions and was flown to Perth by air ambulance.
“It was a remote beach, I was out by myself, there were a few other people on the beach and I managed to make it into the shallows and then they helped me out of the water, it probably happened about 100 metres out and then I managed to catch a wave in.
“You don’t really think about it too much,” he said of what was going through his mind during the attack. “Your survival instincts just kick in and you operate on survival mode to try and get away from the situation.
“There were a lot of challenges living with a split hook prosthetic, it was really hard, every little thing I could do was a stepping stone to the next thing and going to the Winter Paralympics in South Korea in March was the top of the pyramid (he finished fifth in the banked slalom), and now I’m getting better by winning gold here in Dubai as well.”
Surfing was off the agenda after the incident, not out of fear, but rather the inability to push off the board to stand.
“I make one wave out of 20 where I don’t fall over so it’s quite challenging. It wasn’t really working out so I thought I’d give snowboarding a try. I went to Canada on a trip and met a para-snowboarding coach who told me all about the sport and I got into it when I went back to Australia.
“It’s all pretty similar, surfing and snowboarding, I’d never snowboarded until after the shark attack, so it’s been quite a fast learning curve for me because I had those skills before.”
His only problem now is finding snow to train on.
“There’s no snow resorts in Western Australia so we have to travel to the east coast to Victoria and New South Wales. We train a bit over the winter in Australia, so we go to the snowfields for a couple of months, then over the Northern Hemisphere winter we are away a month at a time, so 7-8 months of the year we are out on the road.
“It’s been really good this season to come out and get gold, hopefully I can make it through the next four years and keep progressing and if I’m still good enough, hopefully, I can get to the next Paralympics and take home the silverware. This season though I’m hoping for more good results to take home the Crystal Globe,” he said of the series title.
Ski Dubai is hosting four events in total from Asian Para Snowboarding to World Snowboarding this week, November 6-8, to World and Asian Para Alpine Skiing next week from November 12-15.