Scott Meenagh has gone from a novice para nordic skier to booking his place at PyeongChang 2018 in just under two years.
However, the feat of becoming a Paralympian is not enough for the 28-year-old as he aims to make his mark in South Korea.
Making the move from the GB rowing programme to freezing mountain courses might seem like a bizarre career move, but the Cumbernauld native is no ordinary athlete.
After a promising rugby career which saw him represent Scotland at under-18 level, Meenagh felt that duty called and he enlisted in the army, becoming one of the few to graduate into the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment (2 Para).
At 21, he was a paratrooper serving in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province when he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device).
The young soldier lost both of his legs, as well as the friend who disobeyed direct orders and helped save his life.
A year of rehabilitation and learning to walk again on his prosthetic limbs followed before Scott turned his hand, very successfully, to rowing. He captained the British Army team to multiple medals at the Invictus Games and more recently even found time to add two more silvers on the athletics track.
He topped the podium on his GB rowing team international debut and came painfully close to qualifying for Rio 2016.
Not content with waiting another four years for his shot at Paralympic glory, Meenagh decided to completely change tack and put everything into becoming an elite level Nordic skier. Now the latest landmark in an extraordinary career is that the Scot will become the first ever British athlete to compete in sit-ski at the Paralympics.
Despite admitting the idea of reaching the PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games was a ‘pipe dream’ when he took up the snow sport; Meenagh now wants to put in a performance which will inspire other Brits to take up the sport.
He said: “I’m extremely proud to be part of the Paralympic squad; it’s something I’ve worked towards for a long time now. It’s been a really incredible journey so to now be competing at the pinnacle of the sport is amazing and I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet just how exciting it is.
“When I started the sport it was a pipe dream. The prospect of going to PyeongChang was nowhere near our thoughts. We just wanted to give it a go and see where we could get to, it went quicker than I ever expected, it’s been a pretty special journey.
“When we first realised that the Olympics was a possibility I wanted to make sure we created a really nice path for others to follow. I think this is a tremendous opportunity. Alongside it being my first Games, to be the first Games a British athlete competes in the sit ski class it’s so exciting.
“I really hope that others will follow and it creates a legacy from showcasing this sport in Korea.”
A drastic change in disciplines is not a road well travelled by top level athletes. But Meenagh said the transition was smoother than expected with his experience of the GB rowing programme and his love of his new sport aiding his terrific progress.
He said: “I was inspired by para Nordic skiing when I was on the Paralympic inspiration programme in Sochi. I was out there to learn about the Games environment. The variety and physicality of the sport really caught my interest.
“At that point I was on the rowing programme. What I started doing was cross train for rowing in the winters, training for rowing by cross country skiing, and I absolutely loved it.
“It’s been a real period of learning. I’ve finished my second World Cup season and I’ve made huge leaps forward. I think the reason we’ve moved so quickly is we’ve been really diligent learners, we’ve committed to that.
“We realised that if we are to be anywhere near some of the best in the world we need to learn and adapt very quickly. I feel my experience in the GB rowing programme really helped me accelerate in this sport. Everything the rowing programme taught me in terms of how to conduct myself as an athlete I was able to bring to this sport.”
Meenagh’s rapid rise in the sport will come as no surprise to the staff at the sport scotland Institute of Sport (SIS), who have witnessed his dedication first hand and devised programmes to help the athlete adjust to his new sporting environment.
Meenagh gave thanks to the institute and the support he’s had from the National Lottery before setting off for South Korea, he added: “What was really special about the sport scotland Institute of Sport was they supported me across the transition. I was in a well-established programme in rowing and decided to turn my hand to something that had never been done before.
“To have that understanding and patience with me while I made that transition was great. To support me and made sure I went into the world of para Nordic with every chance of being successful. In particular my physio Kelly Horne was a fantastic catalyst in that transition, she organised it so well. She helped me gradually change my physiology towards cross country skiing.
“She has vast experience in both sports so the help she gave me really accelerated the process. I’m very thankful for that, I think I could have quite easily gone in a different direction had I not had that support from such a professional setup.
“Without National Lottery funding there wouldn’t be the level of high performance sport that there is in Britain. The results at Olympics and Paralympics are as a result of that funding, it allows us to train to pursue our sports to that level. It is a dream come true for us. It really makes the difference and long may it continue.”