From shark attack victim to dream Winter Paralympics debut

Sean Pollard first attempted snowboarding in 2015.

Sean Pollard first attempted snowboarding in 2015. Photo: Australian Paralympic Committee

Around 60 seconds. Maybe more. That’s all it took for Sean Pollard’s life to change.

“I went on a trip to Esperance with my girlfriend, Claire, and I went out for a surf and didn’t make it back in one piece,” Pollard said.

In October 2014, the then 23-year-old was attacked by two great white sharks while surfing. He fended them off but lost his left arm and right hand in the incident.

“I managed to survive it,” Pollard said. “I was pretty lucky to get to hospital within an hour of the attack.

“I lost a lot of blood. By the time I got to Perth I needed seven blood transfusions.”

That’s more than three litres of blood. The average adult body comprises about 4.5 to 5.5 litres.

The harrowing event, however, does not define Pollard. Nor does his disability or ability.

But his character does.

“It’s been a fairly steep recovery since then and I’ve learnt a lot about myself and the things I’m capable of,” the 26-year old qualified electrician said.

“I think a good attitude to have in life is not to be afraid to fail. It’s worked so far.”

Para-snowboarder Sean Pollard

Sean Pollard refuses to let the shark attack define him as a person. Photo: Australian Paralympic Committee

Pollard’s willingness to “try something new” saw him first attempt snowboarding in 2015; it was also the first time the lad from WA had seen snow.

His adaption to his new sport has been both swift and impressive.

“The best thing I get out of snowboarding, which is really similar to surfing, is that presence in the moment,” Pollard said.

“You’re really focused as you’re flying down the hill and once you get to the bottom you don’t have to paddle back out – you can just sit on a chairlift and enjoy the ride up.

“That’s why I love the sport so much because you’re just there in the moment and everything else in your life just blurs out the faster you go.”

Pollard’s past few months have been a blur.

Sean Pollard snowboards

Sean Pollard’s snowboarding has taken him to the Netherlands, Finland, USA, Canada, Japan and now South Korea. Photo: Australian Paralympic Committee

As part of the Games’ qualification process, he’s traversed the northern hemisphere in a journey that’s encompassed the Netherlands, Finland, USA, Canada, Japan and now South Korea.

“I’m super happy to be named in the team,” said Pollard, who will make his Winter Paralympic Games debut for Australia in Para-snowboarding.

“I can’t wait to walk out with my countrymen and be part of the spectacle.”

Pollard’s only been home on four occasions since November last year. Those precious moments when he’s back on his turf, he enjoys time with his family and friends.

He’s also discovered there’s plenty of support from his local community.

“I’m stoked to represent Bunbury, it’s an awesome hometown,” he said.

“Everyone’s been getting behind me and people have been stopping me in the streets. It’s really cool.”

Sun and surf still run through the sandgroper’s veins, and he continues to enjoy swimming, snorkelling and surfing.

“I’ll go out for a surf these days and I’ll be happy to get back to my feet on one wave out of 20 just because it’s so hard to paddle, and push up, and catch a wave,” he said.

“It’s really challenging. I pretty much go out and get dumped.”

South Korea will provide a new set of challenges when the world’s best para-athletes converge for the Games, starting on March 9.

Australia’s team will compete across two disciplines: Para-alpine skiing and Para-snowboarding.

Pollard will feature in the two events in the Para-snowboarding – snowboard cross and banked slalom.

Both comprise three runs per competitor, with their fastest time recorded to the overall finishing order.

“My results are pretty similar in both events but I’ve probably got a bit more of an advantage in the banked slalom, though, because of my surfing background,” Pollard said.

Depending on the length of the course, each competitor should be aiming for the minute mark, for each run, in both disciplines.

Around 60 seconds. Maybe more.

In sport – and life – every second counts.


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