Four-time winter Paralympic medallist Jade Etherington has called for a rethink into the way young athletes are funded and supported.
Jade, 23, from Bourne, became Britain’s most successful winter Paralympic athlete at a single games when she won three silver medals and one bronze in Sochi, Russia, last month.
Visually-impaired Jade and her sighted guide Caroline Powell were hailed as heroes for their triumph. They have featured in the national media and were even invited to meet the Prime Minister.
But Jade has now returned home to face significant debt and the prospect of not being able to afford to compete at the next games.
The former Deepings School and Baston Primary pupil will always be grateful for the support she received on the road to Sochi. But she believes a stronger system needs to be in place to support athletes at the start of their journeys.
She said: “We now need to be looking at athletes for 2022. It’s too late for 2018. There isn’t really the grassroots development.
“One solid programme would benefit everyone.”
Jade suffers from Axenfield’s syndrome, which causes fluid blockages in the eye, and has just five per cent vision. She started skiing with her family before joining the development squad of the British Disabled Ski Team.
But even at that early stage the costs were becoming clear.
Jade said: “Skiing is an expensive sport. You have to pay for equipment, a guide, travel, accommodation. It’s a lot of money.
“I got support from the Lincolnshire Elite Athlete Programme and the Get Kids Going charity helped fund part of my guide’s expenses. They couldn’t do everything but that definitely helped.
“I don’t know what the statistics are about the amount of athletes that give up because of funding. But it’s about having the priority of working on performance and a skiing routine rather than worrying about paying for the flight home or accommodation. I wasn’t worrying about what I needed to do to make me ski better. My priority was wrong because funding was always at the back of my mind. Money comes into it with injuries as well.
“It’s different in each sport. Part of it needs to come from the athlete but I think the team should have a better support programme and structure so they can help you.”
And signing up to compete at an elite level pushes the costs up further. Jade said: “I have no money now and am still paying the British Disabled Ski Team. I had to pay £9,000 just to put my name on the team. I’m still paying that.”
Despite doing the country proud in Sochi, Jade is now faced with the possibility of not being able to compete at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
She said: “I have come away with the medals but in reality that doesn’t really mean anything for the rest of my life. Coming out on the other side after doing so well, representing my country - you work really hard and then you are just kind of left.”
Above all, Jade hopes the support given to athletes can improve to the success of the entire British skiing team in Sochi can be repeated for years to come. She said: “It would be a shame for our success just to be a one-off, particularly with the extra expectation now on the younger ones.”
Jade is a trainee teacher and is looking forward to finishing her studies at Bishop Grosseteste in Lincoln, where she now lives.
She wants to use her success to inspire young people to take up sport, but also hopes to use her own experiences to make things better for future Paralympic hopefuls.
She said: “I would definitely like to have a role. I’m not saying I know everything but I have got some ideas of what needs to happen to make it work. From my teaching background, you see a lot of it from an outside view.”
Jade’s JustGiving page, where she is raising funds for the Disability Snowsport UK charity towards her costs, is still open. Visit www.justgiving.com/jadeetherington to donate.