Joany Badenhorst may never have snowboarded before, but that didn’t stop this courageous young woman giving it a go – and getting herself into the Australian team competing in the Winter Paralympics Games.
When Joany Badenhorst crashed on a training run the morning she was meant to compete in the para-snowboard cross at the 2014 Winter Paralympics Games in Sochi, she decided she would never snowboard again. “I was so angry with myself,” the 23-year-old recalls. “I got to the bottom of the hill and, in my mind, I decided that I’d be retiring and never setting my feet in a snowboard again.”
But it wasn’t long before she picked herself up again. “I realised that was not really the exit I wanted because no time in my life have I ever just given up like that,” she says. “I gave myself another four years to get there again.” Now she is ready for the Winter Paralympics Games in PyeongChang, South Korea in March.
Never going to keep me down
It isn’t the first time she’s had to turn herself around in the face of hardship. At the age of 10 she lost her leg in a horrific tractor accident on the family’s farm in South Africa. “When I lost my leg I thought I was alone in the world,” Badenhorst says. “No matter what I wanted to do, I kind of had to find myself to figure out how to do it.”
Despite her injury, she competed in athletics with her prosthetic leg and won gold medals for South Africa at the International Paralympic Championships.
After her family moved to Australia (she lives near Griffith in NSW), she narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. “I had been working towards the Summer Paralympics since I lost my leg and to just fall short of it was enough to set me off the sport completely,” she says. “I retired from athletics.”
Then one day while she was trying on a prosthetic so she could wear heels to her year 12 formal, she caught the eye of the Australian Paralympic snowboard coach, Peter Higgins. “He called me a couple of days later and said, ‘Hi Joany, I saw you running around in high heels. Clearly you’ve got balance. You’re female and you’re legless, which fits all the criteria for the next athlete I’m looking for. Do you want to give it a go?’” Badenhorst had never snowboarded before. “I had just retired [from athletics] and finished school and was just craving that competition again so I just said yes,” she explains. “I just did it and didn’t look back. Twelve years ago on the farm, I never thought that I would be a Paralympian competing for Australia.”
In full swing
Badenhorst has been working hard in preparation for this Winter Paralympics Games, travelling to Whistler and the Big White in Canada earlier this year for training and competitions. “You work the entire year and you’ve got 30 seconds on a board to justify the work that you’ve been putting in,” she says. “No pressure, right! I love the sport, the competition and the feeling you get being competitive.”
Although she’s an international athlete, she hasn’t forgotten her beginnings. She gives motivational talks to young people.
“I first got into speaking when I realised that there were more kids out there like me who didn’t have mentors in their life to put them in the right direction,” Badenhorst says. “I never had anyone in my life to go, ‘I’m legless too … this is how you handle it.’ I just had to blindly go for it and hope for the best. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.”
Badenhorst competed in the banked slalom and boarder cross at the Winter Paralympics Games 2018.