A Totnes athlete has scooped a silver medal at the Special Olympics first National Winter Games.

Twenty-nine-year-old Jack Hale, from Broadhempston, near Totnes, came second in the giant slalom event, held in the northern Italian town of Folgaria earlier this month.

Jack, who has Down’s Syndrome, was the only athlete from the south west to take part. He was joined by some 80 other British competitors with an intellectual disability competing in both the figure skating and alpine skiing events.

Speaking to this paper, Jack said it was important for him to compete against other people, but at Folgaria he also skied in memory of his friend’s father, whose funeral took place during the competition.

“I did it for him,” he said.

Colin Dyer, chief executive of the Special Olympics Great Britain charity, said: “Given the daily challenges that people with intellectual disabilities face throughout their lives, it’s a great achievement to be here competing and proudly representing their region at a national sporting event, let alone winning a medal.”

Commitment to sport

Jack started skiing as a 14-year-old and later developed his skills after being spotted by a special education needs school in Rossendale.

A measure of Jack’s commitment to the sport - one that ideally requires the presence of snow - is the fact that he trains every week on dry slopes in Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay and further afield.

“Skiing is very important for me. It’s fun and I exercise and, of course, it’s also important for the South West!” said Jack, who has been entering competitions for more than a decade.

He overcame a huge setback almost five years ago when doctors advised him to quit sport after he suffered a spinal injury unrelated to skiing.

Jack’s mum, Ronni, said: “It was a huge shock, it felt like someone had punched me in the face – that was Jack’s entire social life, not just the sport.”

After undergoing the best part of a year in physiotherapy, he recovered fully and was allowed to go back on the slopes in time for his second National Winter Games in 2020.

A keen public speaker, Jack has also been active in raising issues related to team leadership and has taken part in the Oliver McGowan campaign, in memory of an 18-year-old autistic teenager who died after having a severe reaction to medication.

He also helped to design a water bottle and snood for other competitors as a graduate of the Special Olympics international athlete leadership programme.

He is now focused on improving his fitness in time for next year’s World Winter Games in Turin, also in Italy.

“Bring it on!” he said.