Feature | Alpine Skiing

Thomas Fogdoe on a life helping others after being paralysed in a ski accident

Sweden's Fogdoe was one of the world's best slalom skiers until he broke his back in training. Now he's a sports psychologist helping others.

At 24 years of age, Thomas Fogdoe had established himself as an elite alpine skier.

He had already claimed the slalom world cup title, along with five career wins and 16 podium finishes.

The Swede had also competed at the Albertville 1992 and Lillehammer 1994 Olympics, finishing fifth both times.

But he never got the chance to compete at another Games.

In February 1995 Fogdoe was training in Are, which is currently hosting the Alpine Ski World Championships.

He crashed. His back broke. He was paralysed.

Fast forward another 24 years, and much has changed in the life of Thomas Fogdoe, as he told Alessandro Poggi for the Olympic Channel Podcast.

Read the transcript below.

Olympic Channel: So things were going well for you, you were one of the best slalom skiers in the world, you won a slalom world cup, but as you mentioned, there was an accident. The date, 7th February 1995 marked your life, what do you remember about that day?

Thomas Fogdoe: It was a normal training day. We should have been at the World Championships, but they were cancelled because of lack of snow so we ended up in Are to train, focused on that. We had a great day, we had a slope that normally wasn’t open, really steep. But to get there you had to go through the woods, I’ve done that run for 3-4 times and the fourth or fifth time I came too fast, lost my balance and ended up in the woods, hitting a (tree) stump with my back, I broke my back and I had a spinal cord injury.

I imagine it must be painful to talk about that. When you heard the diagnosis, how did you react?

I guess it was like everybody else, denial. I thought the doctor was mad. When he told me that I will be in the wheelchair for the rest of my life, I thought ‘this can’t be happening.' I knew this doctor was one of the best surgeons in the northern part of Europe so I thought what he did that night was fixing my back and at least I could go on with my life, becoming a police officer, all those dreams that I had. He was quite clear. It was hard, it was tough, but I also needed to hear that. The process to get used to the new life started that day. So it has been tough, but now this is my life, a new one, but still okay.

You were only 24 years old and you had a whole career ahead of you. How that event has changed you as a person?

Surely, in many ways. I guess understanding that life is precious and things happen in life. Sure, I will have other difficulties in life, but I know that I can go through with them, at least live with them. I guess, I’m quite more calm nowadays than I used to be. It feels like if I can do that thing, I can do almost everything.

Now you are now helping people, you are motivating people, and you are advising people, but at the that time what advice was precious for you?

There were so many. I guess trying to look ahead, instead of back. Trying to look on the bright side… if something good happens look at that one and not at the five or ten things going on the wrong way. I started to write a diary at that time. That was absolutely perfect because I really had to focus on what I learnt today. That was one of the best advice that I got.

Well your wheelchair certainly hasn't help you back. You’re working as a sports psychological adviser, lecturer. What exactly do you do and how have you started this new chapter of your life?

I wanted to help people…My dream about being a police officer was also about helping people. When I had my accident I was thinking: ‘What am I supposed to do now?’. It was quite clear that I wanted to help people, whether that was sports or life. I wanted to something for other people. As we started off the Active Life Foundation to help athletes having injuries, trying to get them back to ‘normal’ in sport or transferring into a new sport. What I want is to help people. I am also a board member of the Postcode Foundation in Sweden and we have 200 million dollars a year to support excellent projects both in Sweden and abroad. I love that, it’s the perfect thing to do.

What kind of athletes are you working with?

I work with everybody, with those that are having a difficult time, with accident or injury, but also with young people who are on the way up. The youngest one is about 16 years old.

Are you going to follow the world champs in Are?

Yes, I’m going to be there. I will see the old guys and the new guys. We will have a parallel slalom for the oldies to raise some money for my foundation. We started off the Active Life Foundation to help other athletes. We’re going to have a easy competition. Ingemar [Stenmark] will be there, he likes to compete, so I guess it won’t be that fun, but serious…

How has skiing changed since your days?

Skiing has evolved a lot; the new skis, the courses are different, the snow isn’t snow any more, it’s ice, so it’s different, but I guess you have the same challenges as we had. The skis evolved, they are much better, more fun to watch.

Who are your favourite skiers nowadays?

I like to see [Marcel] Hirscher, he’s aggressive, his run is not perfect all the time, but let the skis just go, I think he’s a great skier. Of course Mikaela Shiffrin with her compact and powerful skiing. As a person Andre Myhrer, he’s one of the best person I know, he’s something special and also a great skier.

The great Ingemar Stenmark has the all-time record for world cup victories- 86. How much long do you think this record is going to for?

Let’s see, three more years…I guess Shiffrin, if she continues like that, she will have that record. I thought Lindsey Vonn would take it, but, she was close. I mean 82 is extremely good.

So given the life that you had and the work that you are doing and given how passionate that you are about helping other people, if you could turn back time, would you? and would you change anything?

If I could turn back time, it’s a tough question, because of course I would love to walk again, have that easy part of life. But the experience of life after my accident is so important, so if I had the possibility to turn back time I guess I would stay like this. If I got the experiences and could go on with the skiing, yeah okay that’s fine, but I guess that’s not the case. No, I think this is the best way.

"If I had the possibility to turn back time I guess I would stay like this"

Thomas Fogdoe was one of the best slalom skiers until he broke his back dur...

Thomas Fogdoe was this week’s guest on the Olympic Channel Podcast.

We speak to athletes, and others involved in sport, about the biggest Olympic talking points.

The interview and questions were shortened to make them easier to read.

Head here for ways to listen and subscribe.