Chasing Winter - Gemma Fletcher

Gemma Fletcher.jpg

Gemma sat down with Inspirational Women to tell us why she is chasing Winter.

My life changed dramatically when shortly before my fifth birthday I and my family were in a car accident. It killed my mother on impact, left my father barely clinging to life, and me permanently wheelchair-bound with a spinal injury. 

I grew up on a farm in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. There were always opportunities to be in the outdoors exploring, camping and doing water sports and the accident didn’t stop me continuing to do all the adventurous activities I loved, but I had to learn how to adapt and think outside the box to be able to continue to do what I wanted to do. When I was nine, my family and I moved to Auckland where I got the opportunity to participate in numerous sports, and at fourteen I first got the opportunity to try alpine sit-skiing. I immediately fell in love with the mountain and the feeling of freedom which skiing gave me. 

I became a mother at the age of nineteen and within a couple of years I was a mother of two. I devoted all my time to my young girls and after my relationship with their father ended I felt the urge to do something truly great. I needed to show my girls that if you set your mind to something you can do it. That is when I decided to start sailing and campaign towards the 2016 Rio Paralympics. 

In 2012 I quit my job and put everything I could into learning how to sail and race. I worked extremely hard and improved quickly, which led to me being able to compete in Para-sailing all around the world. Through my efforts I qualified NZ for the 2016 Rio Paralympics but unfortunately I wasn’t selected to represent my country. Feeling let down, I was further heartbroken when sailing was then removed from the future Paralympics. I needed something new to fulfill my need to compete and decided to get back into skiing. This time I would take it to the next level. 

When I looked into it further I found that no woman from my country has ever competed in sit skiing at the Paralympics, and that I would be leading the way for a whole new generation of young women. That I could show other people like me, who are longing to compete in something truly exhilarating, that this is an option in our country and around the world.

This led me to participate in training camps in the South Island in 2018. I then spent six weeks training in Winter Park, Colorado at one of the top adaptive ski training programmes in the world where I met other athletes and was able to see where I need to be in order to win.  

After returning from the USA I packed everything I could fit into my car and left my life on Auckland's North Shore to start a new one here in Wanaka. I am now on the Snow Sports New Zealand development team and have just won two bronze medals at the Winter Games here in NZ. I am training full-time at the High Performance Center at Cardrona and after completing training here I will head back over to Winter Park to continue to train and compete at three events there. I will continue to chase winter until I reach my goal of representing NZ at the Paralympics.

We look forward to following Gemma’s story all the way to the Paralympics.

Pauline Smith