PAULA Walker, the girl from Blackburn who doesn’t like the cold, will represent Great Britain in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The former St Bede’s High School pupil completed a remarkable rise in fortunes after swapping rugby boots for bobsleigh less than four years ago.
In fact, Walker’s rise has been so rapid that she hadn’t even climbed in to a bobsleigh by the time the last Winter Olympics in Italy in 2006 was done and dusted.
But after completing a top ten ranking in the latest World Cup event in Germany in the two man bob at the weekend, Walker and her GB2 team will go to Canada.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Walker after securing her top 10 ranking.
“I’ve only been in the sport a few years and now I am going to the Olympics.
“I can’t even say it is a lifelong dream because I have only been doing it for such a short time.
“Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am just a normal Blackburn girl.
“I don’t even like the cold!”
The British Olympic Association had imposed a December 22 deadline on Walker and her team-mates, Kelly Thomas from Dartford and Trowbridge’s Jaqueline Gunn (who make up a three man squad) to clinch a top 10 place.
It meant they went to Altenberg knowing they had to finish above the Russian 2 sled. After the first run, Walker led by just two hundreds of a second – a blink of an eye in bobsleigh terms where speeds of more than 70 mph are reached. That lead was extended slightly in the second run to book a place in the finals.
“I was incredibly nervous,” added the 23-year-old from Feniscowles. “We knew we were so close to the getting to the Olympics but, at the same time, knew that one error could end our dreams.”
Walker, whose sporting background is in rugby and athletics, stepped in to a bobsleigh for the first time at the back end of 2006 — and when she did it was under duress and the most terrifying of experiences.
The corporal in the Royal Signals was coaxed in to the sled by an army colleague who had been let down by her usual training partner.
“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 Walker stuck at it, first as a brakeman before transfer-ring to driver a year later – a role she has revelled in.
“I don’t know why I am so good,” added Walker who is based in Bath and will follow fellow East Lancastrian Kristan Bromley to Vancouver. “I just seem to have taken to it like driving a car.”
Another incredible factor to Walker’s success story is that her journey to the Winter Olympics has been self funded.
Her three-man team did receive funding from the Task 2012 pot but that has since stopped.
“It’s a £40,000 a year sport so my credit cards have taken the brunt of that,” said Walker who also went to St Paul’s Primary School.
“So I would love to try and find a major or sponsor or two and it would be great if an East Lancashire company could help out.”
Walker has steadily improved since taking over as driver and is enjoying her new found responsibility.
“It’s my job to get us down the run as fast as possible,” she said. “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 her results this season has proved just that.
The season opened with 16th and 15th placings in America and Park City and Lake Placid respectively before going one better at Cesana in Italy.
And in Germany this month, Walker took a 15th place in Winterberg before a decisive 11th place in Altenberg on Saturday.
Walker, who will spend Christmas with her family in Blackburn, resumes the World Cup programme in the New Year before the small matter of preparing for the Winter Olympics which begin on February 12.
“I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet,” she added. “I still have to remind myself that I am actually going to compete in the Winter Olympics.”
Not bad for the girl from Blackburn who doesn’t like the cold!
l Anyone who would like to sponsor Paula can contact her on 07590 455585 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org