Surrey rider at Paralympics
Most of what Ashley Gowanlock is going to experience in London, England later this month at the Paralympic Games will be nothing new.
But while the country, competition, and the Paralympics themselves are all something the 25 year-old Surrey resident has experienced before, there is one thing she would like to achieve for the first time.
“Everyone eyes the podium,” she said Wednesday morning, just hours before boarding a plane to London. “Not coming back with a medal will be disappointing.”
Gowanlock is a favourite to win a medal in equestrian dressage competition, something she missed out on when representing Canada at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. She finished eighth in freestyle, seventh in individual championship, and fourth in the team test competition.
“I was just 21, and I made the team by the skin of my teeth,” she said of the 2008 Paralympic experience. “I was just happy to be going.”
Gowanlock began riding at age two, as therapy for cerebral palsy. She didn’t begin to compete until she was 16, and three years later was at the 2007 World Para-Dressage championships in Great Britain, earning top marks in the under-21 and under-25 age groups.
A year later she was in Beijing for the Paralympics.
A return trip to England this year almost didn’t happen. Although she was in England in July, 2011 for the Hartpury Festival of Dressage as part of a Canadian team preparing for the Paralympics, a trip to Portugal in December made next week’s trip possible.
“We had to throw a team together to qualify Canada for the Paralympics,” said Gowanlock. “There were only three of us, and a team is usually four riders with a low score dropped.
“We couldn’t drop a low score, so everyone had to have the ride of their lives.”
Gowanlock did her part, placing first in individual and freestyle, and second in the team test.
“We went from 16th to fourth (in world rankings),” said Gowanlock.
Now in London for her third major international competition in Britain, being familiar with her surroundings will be a huge advantage at the Aug. 30 to Sept. 4 competition.
“It’s totally comforting,” she said. “We know what the food is like, we’ll be in the same dorms, we know how far it is to the barns.”
Focused on the competition in three weeks, Gowanlock isn’t looking past the Paralympics, and has no idea if a third trip to the Games is something she would like to do.
“I’ll definitely always ride, but I’m not sure about my competitive future,” she said. “I go from competition to competition, and if I have fun I look forward to the next one.
“And if there isn’t a next one, God’s got something else in mind for me, and I’ll have to see what that is.”