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Blackburn bobsleigh ace dreaming of Olympic glory
PAULA Walker has been a downhill success ever since she took up the bobsleigh just three years ago — but realising her Olympic dream is proving to be a bit of an uphill struggle.
Blackburn-born Walker is the current driver for GB2 and on course to represent her country in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.
However, the financial strains are proving to be just as uncomfortable as the G-Force she experiences while hurtling down mountain sides at more than 70 mph.
The 22-year-old has already resigned herself to the fact that she will miss out on next year’s crucial World Championships in Canada — the first chance to compete on the new Olympic course — unless she can find a financial backer.
While her three-man team do receive Lottery funding from the Task 2012 pot, resources are stretched as she prepares to compete in the Europa Cup and the World Cup when the season starts next month.
“It is a horrible position to be in but basically I am having to go around asking for donations just to be able to compete,” said Walker a corporal in the Army and based in Bulford, Wiltshire. “I am fortunate to get funding but it doesn't stretch that far when you consider we have to pay for accommodation, travel and training. I’ve tried everything but I feel I have exhausted all avenues.
“It would be great if there was a local company out there who could sponsor me and help me prepare for the Olympics in the right way.”
Although money is tight, Walker has vowed to scrimp and save her way to Vancouver and realise the unlikeliest of dreams.
For Paula hadn’t even climbed in to a bobsleigh by the time the last Winter Olympics in Italy in 2006 was done and dusted — and when she did it was under duress and the most terrifying of experiences.
Paula had been ‘coaxed’ in to the sleigh but an army colleague who had been let down by her usual training partner. But after ending that first run batted and bruised, Walker could easily have walked away.
“I was absolutely terrified,” said Walker at the time. “It was one of the worse experiences of my life. I was left black and blue and I thought there is no way I am going to do that again.”
But she stuck at it and clocked a string of impressive results, notably winning gold in the FIBT invitational event at Lake Placis while also finishing second place overall in the Europa Cup standings and 14th in the world championships.
Walker’s sporting background as a heptathlete and rugby player stood her in good stead as she used all her explosive powers to excel as a brakeman who has the task of giving the team a blistering start at the top of the run.
However, 12 months ago she turned her attentions to the less energetic but more important role of driver.
“It’s my job to get us down the run as fast as possible,” added Walker. “But I have really enjoyed swapping over from a brakeman to a driver. I have more responsibilities now but that doesn’t worry me.”
And if her results from last season are anything to go by, Walker is thriving under the extra burden.
For she guided her team to fifth place in the World Junior Championships, second in the British Championships and three top 10 places in the Europa Cup.
Walker was also first in the British Army Championships and the Interservice Championships.
It promises to be a big two years for Walker in the build up to the Winter Olympics in Canada but her realistic chance of glory is in Russia for Sochi 2014 Games.
She will soon be transferred to Bath where she can continue her training on a purpose built bobsleigh run.
But there is the small matter of London 2012 squeezed in between.
“If I have to be honest, London 2012 is really annoying me,” said Walker. “You wouldn’t know there was a Winter Olympics to be held before it given all the hype.
“I know it is still a few years away but the Great Britain team are expected to do well in Vancouver but there has been little mention of it.”
Before that, Walker will be turning her attentions to the upcoming Europa and World Cups. Walker has targeted a top six finish in the Europa Cup and a top 15 finish in the World Cup.
Then it is the Olympics themselves where Paula believes she can drive to a top six finish before turning her attentions to Russia – funding permitting.
“It’s sad to say but it is all about the funding,” she said. “I will get there but it would be great to be able to compete on equal terms with other nations.”
Anyone who would like to help Paula, contact her on 07500 229465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org