It’s less than 2 years since Cassie Cava had her foot amputated but, far from allowing it to slow her down, she’s already well on the way to becoming one of our next Paralympic snowboarding hopefuls.
The operation to remove her leg below the knee transformed 24-year-old Cassie’s life, but not in the way you might expect. “I was born with club feet and had been in a lot of pain, struggling to do much other than shuffle around for 6 years after I badly broke my foot,” she explains. “During that time I had 8 operations to try and mend the foot, but in the end I asked to have it amputated so I could have a shot at living an active and pain free life. It has turned my life around – I can walk, run, snowboard and do absolutely anything that I want to do.”
Before the operation Cassie was studying medicine at university and she’d never even picked up a snowboard, though she had done seasons skiing. As part of her rehabilitation after the amputation she was keen to get back to the mountains and back on skis. A chance encounter with the GB Para-snowboarding coach Si Nicholson led him to suggest she switch to snowboarding, as the British Paralympic team was recruiting. Just over a year later and she’s decided not to return to her university course and instead concentrate full time on competing.
“I haven’t looked back”
Adapting to her prosthetic leg hasn’t been easy though. “It’s been frustrating at times,” she says. “Lots of appointments waiting to get my prosthetic legs sorted, issues with not being able to get certain feet on the NHS and my stump is still changing so I still need new sockets every few months which often take a few weeks to get right and comfortable enough to wear. But now, when the suction is holding well and it is nicely stuck to my leg it feels like a part of me. I have occasional rubs and sore bits but for the majority of the time it feels just the same as my other leg, but doesn’t get cold or numb in the mountains! Apart from minor inconveniences like having to sit down in the shower, my life with a prosthetic leg is pretty much the same as my life was with two real legs.”
Having spent most of this winter on snow – she now spends some of her time based in Sainte Foy, sponsored by Alpine Culture, and trains a lot in Tignes – her new vocation in snowboarding has given her a new lease of life. She says: “I haven’t looked back – I love snowboarding, I love being in the mountains and the buzz I get from racing is incredible. It’s so good to be able push myself every day on snow and to be learning so much. Courses are getting bigger and more technical and the standard is getting higher and higher so it’s really exciting time to be in the sport.
“My best moment so far was my first boarder cross race. I qualified in last place so had to face the lady who qualified in first in heats. This was Bibian Mentel-Spee, the Paralympic and multiple World Champion who has apparently never lost a race. I am no way near her level yet, but gave it a good go. Somehow, I had a good start, whereas she had a wobble over the Wutang so I got ahead. She couldn’t get past me, but then I fell near the end of the course. She fell too, but I got up faster and got ahead and stayed ahead, beating her. The next time I raced her she had a very clean run and absolutely smashed me, but anything can happen in head to head racing and it was good to show the other girls that I mean business!”
Cassie has just come back from her first set of Europa and World Cup races in boarder cross and banked slalom with her best result being a 4th place finish, and the 2018 winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang is now the big goal. Next season will hopefully include the World Championships in Canada and the Paralympic test event in Pyeongchang. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also on the GB paratriathlon team so heavily training in swimming, cycling and running.
Coach Simon Nicholson thinks she’s got what it takes to go all the way for her country. He says: “Cassie is a new addition to the GB Para-Snowboard Squad this season. Her passion, determination and professionalism has allowed her to progress faster than many. Her high levels of physical fitness and mental robustness means she rides until the last lift and is rarely phased by the occasional knocks and falls. With a packed training schedule this summer she will hit the winter season competition calendar even stronger. With her aspirations of knocking a few other girls off their podiums, I think #thisgirlcan.”
Cassie says: “I want to start podiuming in World Cups next season and have a lot of fun along the way! Through what I’m doing, I want to show other people with so called disabilities that whatever that is, it only disables you as much as you allow it to. You can still do whatever you want to do – whether that’s extreme sports or taking the dog out to the park, there are always ways of working around whatever barriers people may be facing.”