Scared-of-heights Birkby snowboarder sets sights on Winter Olympics

Sam Turnbull in action at the World Snowboarding Championships in Quebec, Canada. FIS C-2: Sam Turnbull prepares

Sam Turnbull in action at the World Snowboarding Championships in Quebec, Canada. FIS C-2: Sam Turnbull prepares

First published in News
Last updated

A FORMER skateboarder who is afraid of heights is setting his sights on competing at next year’s Winter Olympics.

Sam Turnbull, who lives on his parents’ mixed farm in Birkby, between Northallerton and Darlington, has bounced back from a devastating injury last autumn with a 15th placing at the World Snowboard Championships, in Quebec, Canada.

Friends have likened Mr Turnbull’s exploits to the movie Cool Runnings - featuring the story of the Jamaica national bobsled team's debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics - due to the lack of snowboarding training facilities in the region.

Hamish McKnight, head coach of the GB Freestyle Snowboard Team, said the 21-year-old, who started snowboarding five years ago, was in a good position to qualify for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next February.

Mr McKnight said: “It is testament to Sam’s resilience as an athlete that he has managed to achieve so much so far in snowboarding.

“Without immediate access to a domestic training facility such as an indoor slope, Sam has been forced to work extremely hard and invest heavily in accessing training both around the UK and more specifically abroad.”

The former pupil of Allertonshire School, in Northallerton, said he had feared his dream of competing at the Olympics had been put in jeopardy after he snapped ankle ligaments in September.

But after travelling to Leeds up to five times a week to build strength and conditioning he has stunned his coaches with “accomplished performances” at world ranking events.

Mr Turnbull said: “I decided to put the injured ankle behind me and not use it as an excuse.

“My parents are behind me and my brother thinks what I’m doing is great.”

The Snowslope and Big Air events he competes in involve high-speed somersaults above undulating and steep slopes.

He said: “I’m scared of heights, but I really love the fear factor.”

Mr Turnbull said he spends £15,000 a year on training and competing, which he partly funds through work on his parents’ farm and in restaurants and through sponsorship, but also through parental contributions.

He said he would be delighted if firms interested in offering sponsorship would email him at

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