Sam Tait is a Paralympian who represented Australia in five sit-ski events at the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
Sam became a paraplegic at 22, breaking his T11 vertebrae in a motorcycle accident in Wollongong, NSW. Airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, he woke up three days later with no recollection of the accident and spent the following three months in intensive rehabilitation.
An experienced able-bodied skier, Sam was keen to get back onto the ski slopes after rehab. One month after he left rehab Sam travelled to Thredbo for his first lesson and soon fell in love with sit-skiing.
Sam is part of the icare Speakers Program, in which current and former Paralympians share their stories of how their lives were impacted by injury and how they recovered and went on to become top performing athletes.
Sam, how did you become a Paralympian?
I wouldn’t have competed at the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games if it wasn’t for my motorbike accident. I was a skier pre-accident, but it was deciding how I would deal with a severed spinal cord that determined my future. I could crawl into a hole, or I could train for hours a day to ski. It was an obvious choice.
How does it feel when you’re at the super G starting gates?
I’m glad you didn’t start with my motorbike accident and asked about skiing. It’s where I’m at now. Pre-race, I psyche myself up. That little voice inside of me tells me to commit. To commit to all the corners. And to trust myself.
That sounds like a bit of mental tug-of-war to overcome your instincts like that.
It’s a fine line. You can’t overthink it. Your mind is a powerful thing but the race is really in your heart. That’s what the Paralympics is all about. All these competitors, me, the Dutch guys, the Koreans, the Canadians, they have the guts to push themselves like no other athlete. They don’t see their disability. I know I don’t. I feel the wind push through me, I feel every bump in the snow like it’s going through my whole body, I’m only inches from the snow.
When you race you’ve got so much speed – in your turns you’re right down low, so close to the snow!
Yes, but when you’re going that fast and you’re that close to the snow, you get lost in the speed of the turn. I don’t even feel like I have a disability when I compete.
What was your journey to Korea?
Five years ago, after the accident, I needed serious rehab. While I was in hospital I was watching videos of the Canadian downhill skiing Paralympians. And I just said to myself, that’s me in a few years’ time. That’s what I’m going to do. Mum was right there behind me. I’ve been getting support from icare ever since. They modified my car, my home, paid for my sit-ski. I always say to people 'they matched my determination'. They have been with me all the way to Korea.
Read the full interview and more about resilience and innovative approaches to recovery in Better magazine.