FARNHAM is perhaps not a town you would associate with winter sport success, but Alice Willans has changed that.
Competing in her first winter national tournament, the Special Olympics Great Britain National Alpine Skiing Competition in Crans Montana, Switzerland, Alice returned to Surrey victorious with one gold and two silver medals in the intermediate female category.
A former student of The Abbey School in Farnham, Alice had not even skied competitively, yet now she is in contention to represent her country at the World Games next year.
It is a rapid rise and one which Alice hopes will raise the profile of Special Olympics GB, an organisation which provides sport for more than 7,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities across the country.
Alice was delighted with her performance in Switzerland.
She said: “I had a brilliant week – it was even better than I thought it would be.
“I really enjoyed racing, skiing in Switzerland with my team, making new friends, being part of such an amazing competition and, of course, getting my first gold medal!”
Alice, 20, has autism and mild learning difficulties, yet this has not stopped her from becoming one of the country’s best skiers in the intermediate female category.
Yet just over a year ago, Alice had not even skied competitively. After hearing of a few students from her college joining Aldershot Skiing for the Disabled, and going on a few trips with the club, she decided to join herself.
Her rise since has been meteoric. After just a few months on the nursery slope, Alice turned her hand to the slalom and acclimatised quickly to it.
Soon after, she was spotted and asked to join Special Olympics Surrey Ski Race team. Her answer was a resounding ‘yes’.
A year of training and competing in Aldershot, Brentwood and Birmingham followed – something Alice described as “crucial” in preparing her for the nationals in Switzerland.
Special Olympics Great Britain provides inclusive sport for adults and children of all abilities with intellectual disabilities.
Operating across England, Scotland and Wales, the organisation boasts of more than 120 clubs covering 28 sports.
More than 4,000 volunteers provide training to around 10,000 athletes, who are given the opportunity to compete at local, regional, national and even international level.
Sam Willans, Alice’s mother, spoke highly of Special Olympic GB and described what the experience has done for Alice: “Being part of Special Olympics has been more than just skiing, it’s opened up a whole new community of friends and opportunities for Alice.
“Being a young woman with autism and learning difficulties can be lonely, but I think Alice’s smile says it all!”
What’s next for Alice? After her victorious showing in Crans Montana, Alice says she has since applied for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2021.
This was due to be held in Åre Östersund, Sweden, but a lack of funding has forced organisers to look elsewhere for a host city.