Australia’s tight-knit Winter Paralympics team are ready to make an impact in Beijing after pushing through the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After two pandemic-affected years and almost 100 days of living in each others’ pockets, Australia’s Winter Paralympics team will head to Beijing as the most gritty and tight-knit group yet.

Australia’s para-alpine skiers had bunkered down in Austria since November and flew out for Beijing last Thursday, ahead of the Games kicking off on March 4.

“We’re not like most Australian sporting teams, we don’t get to go home every three or four weeks. Once we’re overseas, we’re here,” said co-captain Melissa Perrine.

“With COVID we’ve not been able to travel back home to see friends or family or anything during the season, whereas sometimes in the past that’s been an option.

“We’ve made the absolute best of it and turned it into more of a family environment. We’re together and tight-knit and these are all great mates of mine.”

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The only team member not based in Austria, fellow co-captain and para snowboarder Ben Tudhope, has remained connected from afar in Finland, while he will be in a separate athletes’ village in Beijing.

“I probably won’t see them as much as I would like to. But I know when I’m not competing or doing anything I will be 100 per cent supporting them as much as I can,” said Tudhope.

“If I can get to any of their races and venues I’ll be the first one there cheering them on because I know that’s exactly what they will do for me. It’s a really special bond that everyone has.”

COVID-19’s challenges have affected Australia’s Winter Paralympians significantly, with many athletes missing at least one season of competition.

Few were hit harder than Perrine, who took a year off after claiming two bronze medals at PyeongChang to focus on her work as a physiotherapist, before losing a second year through the pandemic.

“Instead of one full season, like the rest of the world, I lost two full seasons,” she said.

“Then the lockdowns in Australia definitely affected the way that we could train in our domestic seasons as well.

“I’m coming into this with a lot less skiing under my belt than I had in PyeongChang but I think it’s also taught me to be a little bit more resilient and more professional and focused as an athlete.”

Perrine believed Beijing would highlight the work Australia had put in under difficult circumstances.

“The significance of these Games is it highlights a little bit more of the hard work that it takes to get to a Paralympics,” she said.

“Medals are fantastic and medals are what the public sees and everything but there’s so many small wins and so many personal wins at a Paralympic Games.

“During this pandemic era and what it’s cost us as athletes in terms of preparation, those small wins and those personal performances that are really fantastic need to be highlighted.”

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