10th March 2014 will go down in history as the day that skier Kelly Gallagher won ParalympicsGB’s first ever gold at the Winter Games with victory in the visually impaired Super-G in Sochi. Although much was made of the Bluetooth communication between Kelly and her guide, Charlotte Evans, there was a lot more than technology that helped Kelly to this historic win.
Kelly Gallaher is a 28-year-old from Bangor in County Down in Northern Ireland, She has congenital oculocutaneous albinism, a disorder that involves a lack of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes which also causes vision problems like blurring. Kelly has to ski with a guide who shouts out instructions, but as anyone who’s ever skied knows, there’s a whole lot more to staying on your feet than simply knowing where you’re going.
Although much has been made of the Bluetooth headsets worn by the competitors there’s a whole lot more to Kelly going fast than you would initially think:
- Her guide, Charlotte, wears a fluorescent orange racing bib. This isn’t just for show – it’s there to act as a strong visual marker of where the guide actually is. As Kelly says, “All I can see on the slope is Charlotte’s orange fluorescent bib so I follow that as much as I can and listen to her commands
- When she skis, she can’t see anything at the snow level, and the only way she can tell how fast she is moving is with the force of the wind in her face.
- Personalities (between skier and guide) have to match,’ said Kim Seevers, who skis as a guide for American competitor Staci Manella. ‘If you don’t get along, it will spill over onto the race course. You have to implicitly trust each other.’
- The guide and the skier also have to be the same build, since weight affects velocity, and the distance between the two people has to stay constant.
Much has been made of the Bluetooth headsets used to aid Paralympic skiers but as Robert Pursig aid, “Technology presumes there’s just one right way to do things and there never is.” The Bluetooth headset has helped, there’s no doubt about that – but without the orange bib, the ability to judge speed by the wind on your face and the emotional and physical pairing of the guide with the competitor there would be just no way to turn orange into gold.
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Next time you think that something wholly relies upon technology have another look. You may be rather amazed that success can be assisted by technology but rarely relies on it solely – no matter how much we wish that were the case.