Saturday, 25 September 2021

Teenage triplets say skiing success is all down to fun

TEENAGE triplets from Henley are hoping to ski for their country.

TEENAGE triplets from Henley are hoping to ski for their country.

Lily, Danielle and Zara Hawkins, 14, have been selected for the England schools senior squad after winning silver at the national schools championships in October.

Next week they will attend their first training camp in Norway, which could be the first step towards representing England at the International School Sport Federation’s biennial world skiing championships in 2018.

The girls, who attend Gillotts School in Henley, live in Rotherfield Greys with their parents, Nigel, 51, and mother Nicole, 45.

Their father, a lifelong recreational skier, first taught them to ski on a family holiday in Courchevel in France when they were just three.

The girls’ interest in the sport intensified when they were eight and spent a year living in Canada after Mr Hawkins, a partner at wealth management firm St James’s Place, was posted there for work.

The family became members of the Mount Washington resort at Vancouver Island, where the girls would ski several times a week.

When they returned to the UK, they were enrolled at Sacred Heart Primary School in Greys Hill, Henley, and their father began taking them to the dry ski slope at the John Nike Centre in Bracknell.

In 2010, they were spotted by team managers for the Berkshire Race Squad, which is based at the centre, and invited to join.

The girls began entering regional and national competitions and repeatedly took the top three spots.

Mr Hawkins said: “They came back from Canada as very good skiers. I decided to take them to Bracknell because there aren’t many mountains in this part of the world.

“To be frank, we never thought about them competing. We just went there because the girls had such an interest in skiing that I thought it would be good if they continued. It all snowballed from there, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

Zara said: “Our earliest skiing memories are probably from Canada because that’s when we first started racing against each other, though it was never that serious.”

Danielle said: “We would try to beat each other down the slope every time. I guess we’ve always had a competitive streak but we never thought about taking it more seriously.

“When we tell people that we ski competitively in England, they often say ‘but there aren’t any mountains’ and we used to think the same. We didn’t realise it was possible and certainly had no idea we’d end up doing it.”

When the girls moved up to Gillotts, Mr Hawkins asked if he could set up a school ski team. This was agreed and the team now has a dozen members including Emma Trust, 12, from Sonning Common, who has just been chosen for the England national schools junior squad.

In 2013 the triplets were keen to compete at a higher level so they joined Hemel Ski Race Club.

Now they train on its artificial snow slopes for two hours every Monday night and also train at the dry ski slope in Welwyn Garden City for two hours on Fridays. They must practise on both because they require different techniques and many competitions in the UK are held on dry slopes.

Their coach puts them through drills which improve techniques such as balance and posture. These can include skiing on one leg with the other raised or with arms outstretched holding a skiing pole horizontally.

The girls started out in a beginner group but are now in Hemel’s top team and train with others in their early twenties.

At weekends they compete in events across the country and for the past two years they have won silver at the national schools championships.

They compete in the slalom and giant slalom races, which are considered “technical” events with a focus on form and discipline rather than speed.

Nonetheless, they can sometimes reach speeds of up to 55mph and if they graduate to faster Super-G and downhill races when they are older, this could increase beyond 75mph.

Zara said: “When we’re racing, we are definitely competing against each other as well as everyone else. The adrenaline you get from it is really cool.”

Danielle said: “It’s an amazing sensation — I think the best feeling is when you know the people around you aren’t going as quickly. We just want to do our best all the time. Being part of the same family does help — we compete but we always remember to support each other and congratulate whichever of us wins.”

Lily said: “In the back of our minds we’re always competing with each other and we’ve always got a bit of a racing mindset, even when we’re on holiday. I think the competition between us pushes us to want to do better and go faster.”

Mr Hawkins said: “They love the speed — 55mph isn’t that fast if you’re driving but it’s pretty scary when you’re perched on two planks.

“However, when they get to the bottom they’re always laughing their socks off. I’m always telling them to be careful and to slow down because it wouldn’t be so funny if they fell over.

“All three have had spells at being the best, both in competitions and within the family. It’s always changing round and it’s very close.

“None of them is constantly the best and they know that, which pushes them on to try to beat each other as well as the other racers.

“They’ve got used to skiing alongside really good skiers so they don’t always appreciate how good they are. It’s only when we go skiing recreationally that you notice it — you get strangers asking who the girls are because they stand out on the slopes.”

The girls’ selection for the national squad was confirmed in October by the English Schools’ Skiing Association. They must now keep their fitness at a certain standard so they regularly use the gym at Henley leisure centre and exercise at home too. They are expected to eat healthily and avoid too much junk food.

Mr Hawkins said: “They still want to have fun but this is definitely pushing them to another level. They’ve never had to think this much about being serious athletes. Until now they would just turn up at competitions and do what they do so well.

“The quality of the competition is much higher now so the focus is more on physical preparation than ever.

“ I still don’t think they give much thought to what they’ve achieved. They just ski because they have fun — that’s the driving force behind it and they don’t think much beyond that.”

The girls say they are grateful to their father for teaching them to ski and that he is like their second coach.

Mr Hawkins says he will support and encourage them for as long as he can but fears he may be unable to afford to pay their costs in the future and would have to seek a sponsor.

Each sister has three pairs of skis for different surfaces as well as protective clothing and boots. Whenever they race, each is wearing at least £2,000 worth of kit.

Mr Hawkins said: “I never lose sight of the fact that funding in skiing is non-existent because it’s a minority sport with no government support. All the funding has to come from parents so I’m always asking myself how far we can take this on a limited budget.

“It’s a real challenge because it’s so expensive — on top of the equipment there’s travel and accommodation to pay for. It’s not a county sport but a national one so you’re going all over the UK.

“You have to have the best kit and replace it every season. The girls are also going through growth spurts so they can grow out of it quickly.”

The triplets have not thought much about their future and say they simply enjoy skiing and will see where it leads them.

Zara said: “I’m not sure what I want to do yet. I know you can go quite far with it but it’s more of a fun activity at this stage.”

Danielle said: “Lily and I have talked about becoming instructors in the Alps during the ski season or perhaps even going back to Canada. We loved it the last time we were there.”

Mr Hawkins said: “I believe it’s very important that they continue to enjoy it. We take each step as it comes and there’s no ‘master plan’. We’re just seeing what happens next.

“At the end of the day they’re just normal 14-year-old girls and they’re only starting to appreciate that this Norway camp is more than just a  holiday.

“The chances of becoming a professional ski racer are slim but there’s a good chance of making a career from skiing in some form. They’re already well on their way to skiing at a professional level.

“It’s flattering for me because a lot of people want to know more and even ask if I’m their coach.

“For me, recreational skiing is a lifetime passion and I have only ever wanted to give them the benefits you can get from that.

“The experiences they’re having at the moment are priceless but there’s no pressure on them to go any further than they want. The next two years will show whether they’ve got the ability and desire to represent their country.”

More News:

POLL: Have your say