Whilst you were settling down to your Christmas turkey, Amanda Lightfoot was alone, battling rain and altitude in the mountains of Obertilliach. Christmas Day was down as a simulated race session in Austria. Just another day of hard training, and there's been plenty of them. From May to November she clocked up over 650 hours, and has seen her family for all of 25 days in the past year.
In my previous blog I wrote about our inspiring sportswomen who never receive the press coverage they merit. Amanda is definitely one of those women. Her story is one worth telling. When it comes to determination and against the odds, she's up there with the best of them. Told she might not have what it takes she set out to prove something to them and perhaps to herself.
She is no stranger to doubters. When she told her brother, then a serving soldier, that she planned to join the Army his response was "No chance, you're way too girly." Ten years on she's still in the Army, and has completed a tour of duty in Iraq. 'If you want something, go out and get it. It's not unachievable. If you have a dream you can achieve it,' is her motto.
To dream, first you need to be inspired, and inspiration is not always easy to find for our sportswomen. As we know Football dominates the sporting press and women's magazines seem to largely ignore them."I think there is a lot of focus on celebrities, but there are lot of athletes out there who would be great role models. I read a lot of autobiographies. Recently I've been reading Jessica Ennis autobiography. Reading how she got to where she is inspiring," Amanda told me.
Amanda's dream really began just 4 years ago. After watching the Winter Games of Vancouver on television she decided that she wanted to be an Olympian. Having only taken up skiing age 19 it was a big ask. Most of her professional rivals had been already skiing competitively since the age of 9. 'When I first started I never even thought about the Olympics. I didn't really understand the sport. I just saw it as adventure training with the Army, then I saw the Olympics and it all changed for me. It's funny because I was never big on sport. Biathlon kind of found me, and now I'm in love with it.'
Her base is Lillehammer, Norway, site of the 1994 Olympics. During the Summer she'll put in 4-6 hours of daily intensive training, with the rest of the time given over to rest and preparation. It's a regime that has seen her lose over 8kg, and has given her a toned physique to match that of any professional athlete. She confesses that she prefers to be away from home distractions because here she 'eats, drinks, and sleeps Biathlon'. Home, by the way, is South Shields. A place which, she jokes, has acclimatised her to the coldest of conditions, 'No where is colder, It's proper freezing up there!'
When the news came in January that she'd made the Olympic team she admits she 'laughed and cried, both at the same time.' She is only the second female Biathlete in history to qualify for the Olympics from these shores. The first being Emma Fowler back in 2006. Now Amanda's in Sochi it's finally sinking in that she's about to become an Olympian.
For many in this country Biathlon is a sport they have never watched or even heard of. Hardly surprising when the UK press appear more fixated on a lack of partition wall in the Biathlon Centre toilets, than with on our actual Biathletes.
I urge you to seek out Biathlon in the schedules. For those new to the sport: It began as an exercise for the elite of the Norwegian Army. It combines nordic skiing and rifle shooting. Pound for pound it's one of the hardest sports to compete in. It requires a large skill-set with both exceptional stamina, and tremendous accuracy.
Thankfully our Army girl is an accurate shot with her custom-made pink rifle. Good shooting is vital in a sport where a missed target comes with a time penalty. In the individual, which is staged over a 15km circuit, a bad shooter can add as much as 20 minutes to their time in penalties.
Last time Amanda took on a Sochi course, she ended up needing surgery. 'I took a risk, and it didn't pay off,' she said casually of her serious accident with a tree. She endured rehab, and came back stronger both mentally and physically. If you want a role model with a positive mental attitude, you won't do better than Amanda Lightfoot.Suggest a correction