EXCLUSIVE: Paralympic superstar Jade returns home

Jade Etherington and guide Caroline Powell during the flower ceremony for the Women's Super-G - Visually Impaired. Photo: by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
Jade Etherington and guide Caroline Powell during the flower ceremony for the Women's Super-G - Visually Impaired. Photo: by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Bourne’s Paralympic superstar Jade Etherington hopes to use her Sochi success to inspire others to take up skiing.

Jade, 23, arrived back in England this week after winning four medals at this year’s Winter Paralympics. Alongside sighted guide Caroline Powell, she won three silvers and a bronze in the visually-impaired skiing events.

Jade has been on a whirlwind tour of TV studios since returning to the UK, but is now ready to reflect on becoming the most decorated British Paralympian at a single winter games.

Speaking to the Mercury yesterday (Thursday), she said: “I only got back home last night so it still hasn’t really sunk in. I’ve tried to catch up on sleep and call my family. I haven’t even unpacked.

“Hopefully I can celebrate my birthday and stuff like that. It’s been pretty full on.”

Jade is now a famous face and on Tuesday she was invited to 10 Downing Street with the rest of the Paralympics GB team to meet the Prime Minister.

She said: “It’s just getting used to the fact the people want to know what I’ve been doing. It’s quite different because you work hard and just do your own thing for the last six years and then everyone is interested, but it’s really good.

“The Prime Minister said how proud Britain was of us.”

She added: “I haven’t really been out since I have been back. But in the hotel I got in the lift and people recognised me. I was in someone’s pub quiz the night before. I’m still just Jade but people know my name now. It’s really nice.

This week Jade is staying in Lincoln, where she has been training to become a teacher. But she will return home to Bourne tomorrow to celebrate her birthday, after turning 23 during the games. Bourne Town Council plans to celebrate Jade’s achievements on March 31 and hopes to invite her to schools to show off her medals. Jade is excited to thank the people of Bourne for their support.

She said: “I would like to inspire as many people to get into the sport as I can. There are not many sports that you can do as a family, whether you are able-bodied or not.”

She added: “I’m a trainee teacher so I am always interested in supporting schools. They are the next generation and we should be planting the seeds for 2022 now.”

Jade has Axenfield’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes fluid blockages in the eye. She had six eye operations before the age of 12 and began to lose her sight permanently in 2008. She now has just five per cent vision. Her mother Amber was also born with Axenfield’s and has been blind since the aged of 13, but skis with her husband Andrew as a guide. Jade’s younger sisters Paris, Bronte and Charity also suffer from the same condition.

Jade was first featured in the Mercury in 2011. Even then she was determined to reach Sochi, but the journey has not been easy. She said: “Even just a year ago I didn’t have a guide, I didn’t have any money. But I always knew I was going to go to Sochi, because I’m really stubborn.”

She added: “It’s not a holiday, it’s really tough and you need a lot of determination through the whole of the journey. You have to have it when it’s freezing cold and your don’t know whether you can pay for the hotel you have been staying in.

“Everything I did I asked if it was going to get me a medal. If the answer was no, I wasn’t going to do it. I just didn’t give up.”

Jade hopes to use her increased profile to push for changes in the way winter Paralympic athletes are trained and funded.

She said: “I truly believe that I would have done a lot better if I had more support, like a strength and conditioning coach or a sports psychologist. Instead of worrying about fundraising or booking flights I could have focused on racing.

“It’s only been in the last two years I have really been aware of how you can change things. For me it’s the development squad in the team and how you can make the team better for them.”

Jade and Caroline’s success came in the downhill, slalom and super combined events, where they won silver, and in the super-G, where they took bronze. Sadly Jade had to withdraw from Sunday’s giant slalom due to illness. But she ended the games on a high, carrying the British flag during the closing ceremony.

Jade said: “That’s probably one of the highlights. We had a low on the last day and it was really good to have that high and realise how well we had done.”

Jade has not yet decided whether to try to add to her medal tally at the next games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. She said: “I’ve got 10 weeks left of my PGCE and then I’m qualified. I really want to get that done.”

She added: “It’s too early to say whether I’ll go for the next games. I’m going to have to look at all my options.

“Hopefully there will be changes for the better. I know what it takes to get there and it’s difficult. I will have to see whether it will be worth it. It’s four years of your life for just five minutes.”