“I’M JUST GETTING STARTED,” SAYS PARALYMPIAN SKIER, TRIATHLETE AND MUSICIAN
In 2012, UK Royal Air Force musician Shona Brownlee suffered a seemingly minor leg injury, which in fact had caused irreparable nerve and ligament damage. Following an elective below-knee amputation, and supported by a range of prosthetics, Shona is not only back marching with her band but is a medal-winning skier and triathlete.
Shona’s injury happened at the end of her RAF training. What initially appeared to be a straight-forward ankle sprain left her unable to use her foot and in constant pain. After six years of rehabilitation and unsuccessful surgeries, she made the decision to have her leg amputated below the knee and was fitted with a prosthesis. But she couldn’t have predicted what would follow.
Shona was first introduced to sit-skiing as part of her rehab. “My injury wasn’t improving the way I had hoped,” Shona tells This Is MedTech. “So, when I was offered the chance to take part in an adaptive skiing exercise I jumped at the chance.”
By 2019, following her operation, Shona had classified to race internationally with the support of the Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team.
“By the end of my first racing season (2019/2020), I had won a number of medals, including three gold medals at the British Para-Alpine Championships, and two gold and a silver medal at the Europa Cup finals, coming third overall in the Europa Cup over the whole season,” Shona says. Silver and bronze medals followed at the 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships before Shona went on to compete for Team GB in the Beijing Winter Paralympics.
While Shona was flying on the snow, her prosthetic devices allowed her to expand her sporting endeavours. “I was just beginning to run and cycle again post-amputation when I decided to enter the Superhero Tri (a fully inclusive triathlon event),” Shona recalls. She went on to compete in the British Paratriathlon Championships, finishing second place in the women’s PTS4 event in 2021 and taking gold in 2022.
Medical technology has not only opened the door to new sporting opportunities for Shona but also supports her everyday life. “I use a variety of prostheses, which enable me to do pretty much anything I want to,” she explains.
These include a ‘high-activity’ leg for most day-to-day activities – walks, the gym, cycling, etc. – as well as a leg to be used on parade with her band, a ‘wet leg’ for around the swimming pool or water or at the beach, and a running blade, which she says is more comfortable and efficient when sprinting or for longer distances.
“The long-term plan has always been to return to the band as a full-time musician,” Shona continues, explaining that she is enjoying a summer of concerts and engagements with the band. “But I feel like I’m just getting started with skiing. I’m excited to get back on the snow, put in some hard work and just see what happens!”