|For the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang paralympics, two students from Ewha, para-alphine skier Yang Jae-rim and her guide Ko Un So Ri is currently preparing for the event. Photo provided by Ko Un So Ri.
Skiing down a slope at up to 60 km-per-hour may seem tough enough; but for one Ewha graduate, daring to ski near-blind has helped her live her Paralympic dream.
Two Ewha students, Para-alpine skier Yang Jae-rim and her guide Ko Un So Ri, are aiming for a gold-winning finale to their sporting careers at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics.
“The color of the medals matters, but I think working together is more important,” commented Ko, who has spent almost every day with Yang since she became her guide in 2015. “It will be an honor itself to be in the rankings of the sport games.”
Para-alpine ski is for the visually impaired where a guide runner in front of the skier leads ahead, both with wireless Bluetooth headsets for communication while going down the slope. The guide wears a neon vest and continuously informs the player about every situation of the course via their headsets. The player decides her speed and direction solely depending on the voice of her guide. Teamwork is crucial as it is very dangerous in case of miscommunication.
“We are aiming to do our best in the four categories we are participating in,” Ko said.
The pair qualified for five events at the Winter Paralympic Games which is to be held from Feb. 9 to 25, 2018, in PyeongChang, including their strongest event, para-alpine skiing.
Yang, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Korean painting from the College of Art and Design, was born with retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease affecting premature babies. Yang can only see a tenth of what others can with her right eye and her left eye is completely blind. Despite her vision, she has skied since childhood to practice her balance. After enrolling at Ewha, she spent her time at the art studio on weekdays and on the piste at weekends. She has been Korea’s only competitive para-alpine skier as the member of the national team.
“Even while the drawing at school, I often drew skiing scenes because I was thinking about practicing, since I fell behind other players’ training schedules,” Yang said. “Watching ski videos and drawing pictures at Ewha helped me when I went back to skiing during winter breaks.”
Ko, who is on sabbatical from her studies in the Department of Kinesiology and Sports Studies, became Yang’s partner after becoming exhausted by her own intensive training to join Korea’s national ski team.
“I was tired of ski training and was considering on how to spend my future winters,” Ko said. “When I heard about the recruitment of a guide runner for Yang’s para-alpine ski partner, I decided to give it a shot.”
Yang and Ko spend most of their time together both in and out of training.
“The common factor of Ewha helped us to get much closer quickly - other teams tend to consist of married couples or siblings,” Ko said.
“Going to school together and spending time near Ewha made it easier to work together on the slopes too,” Yang added.
Since then their team has excelled in their sport. The two players placed second in this year’s Alpine Ski World Cup Slovenia, and received a gold medal after playing in two ski games in the 2015 New Zealand Coronet Peak. The team also got a gold medal in the 2015 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Southern Hemisphere Cup for the Women’s Alpine Skiing. Moreover, they made Ewha proud for receiving another gold medal at the 2015 IPC Alpine Ski NZ National Championships, ranking in first place.
After the home game in PyeongChang next year, Yang and Ko are to retire due to several reasons including Yang’s injuries from her last season games. Nevertheless, Yang hopes to receive a medal as well as do great in the games to satisfy herself.
The two players went on saying, “Although we're aware that the Paralympic Games are not as popular as other events, we hope that students of Ewha develop more interest in the 2018 Winter Paralympics along with the other Olympians taking part in PyeongChang 2018.”