This summer has been crazy. It’s the first time I haven’t worked the summer season abroad for a few years and I was a bit sad about that for roughly five minutes, until I realised what unbelievable experiences that lay ahead instead.
It started with the English Indoor Boarder Cross Championships which was an able bodied race on a very tight course in Manchester and I was delighted to finish 4th! Training and racing against the best parasnowboarders in the world I sometimes think I’m pretty bad because compared to them I’ve got a long way to go. But then put into a situation against every day abled bodied snowboarders who don’t race, I suddenly realise I’m actually alright and have learnt an awful lot about snowboarding over the last year.
I had my first full sprint triathlon at Eton Dorney in May, the Arctic ONE race where they run a paratriathlon alongside a triathlon and all sorts of distances so absolutely anyone can enter and get involved. I had a shocking swim because I hadn’t done much open water swimming (4 swims? not enough…) and it was very cold so my diving reflex kicked in hard and breathing was a struggle until about half way through. I then had a good but windy bike, my new bike is light as a feather and I wasn’t prepared for the wind to make me quite so unstable… I had the best run that I had all season, chasing someone down in my category on the last 500m of the run to win it! However I got hypothermia after and was quite ill for a while with ECGs that kept coming back a bit dodgy and my heart rate not going up to what it should be during training. I felt pretty awful and couldn’t do anything much for what seemed like forever, but that cleared up after about a month and I was back in the game.
I then spent a few weeks training on the glacier in Tignes and cycling up and down mountains in the afternoons, very kindly being given free chalet accommodation by the company Chill Alp, who run beautiful chalets in Tignes and Courcheval (and do wonderful food!). Kev, Charlie and Rusty made this an absolutely brilliant fortnight and it is due to the generosity of people like these that I’ve been able to spend a good amount of time on snow so have progressed hugely this summer. This was followed by a camp riding gates at the indoor centre in Landgraaf, Holland, then a freestyle camp in Zermatt in September and finishing with a snowboard cross camp on a course in Pitztal. This has meant that my time on snow over summer has been a very rounded type of education, which was much needed, in that I’ve got stronger on kickers, more stable at high speeds, learnt to carve better and ride accurately around gates – all of which are essential to be successful at boarder cross! Two of these camps were subsidised by the paralympic Agitos Foundation, which has made them far more affordable and we are all very grateful that they are doing this, making training much more accessible.
A couple of videos here: (sorry if you’re on my instagram, you may well have seen all of these already but they’re cool so whatever…)
The highlight of my triathlon season was racing at the World Championships. I went as part of the Talent Squad alongside the Performance Squad, who were all Rio bound, and I was meant to be racing in the open race just for experience. I was moved into the elite race which was very exciting, but then I was reclassified into a category competing against people with all four limbs, or just missing a hand. This wasn’t so exciting. In a race where you swim, cycle, run and have to change legs etc. throughout, this put me at a huge disadvantage overall. Without being too dramatic, this suddenly really did plunge my future in paratriathlon into jeopardy, because it is a known fact that as a below knee amputee in that category, you will struggle to ever be competitive. Categories will hopefully change post Rio, but with my other leg being more unstable that my prosthetic and giving me the same about of power as my prosthetic (so not a lot), I was at even more of a disadvantage. But I did what I could to keep my head up and had a lot of fun in the race, doing it just for experience and saving my legs for a snowboarding camp the week after, as snowboarding was suddenly the thing that mattered.
After racing I was told that I’d been reclassified back to my original category. This was frustrating because I would have raced properly and harder had I known that I was in a more fair category, but I wasn’t to know that and I did what was best thing to do with the information I had at the time, and it was obviously also a huge relief! It was incredible to be out there with such a wonderful team of athletes and support staff. They went on to achieve big things in Rio and there is no doubt that it is totally down to the fantastic set up and team that they have supporting them. It was a privilege to be a part of it and I’m very excited to train hard over winter and be competitive internationally next year.
After that, I won the British Paratriathlon Championships and had a good race there, despite the water being absolutely full of jellyfish! (The non stinging kind, but still… Gross) I’d planned to try and draft off two of the guys who I know swim just slightly quicker than I was capable of swimming, so thought that would work well. They suddenly changed it so that men and women would start separately so a quick chat with my coach and we thought of someone else that I could try and swim with. I did exactly that and, despite the fact that I didn’t really know how to draft at that point, stuck next to her the whole way. There was no chance at all that I was letting her leave me alone with the jellyfish and focusing on her rather than them made the swim fly by and gave me my best swim of the season.
Then I raced in the British Open Water Swim Champs in The Serpentine to end the season, just for the swim experience really as it was 1.6k, which is a lot longer than my normal 750m swim in a race! It was perfect for gaining experience of big starts (not quite mass…) and staying with the fastest guys for a few hundred metres. It was great fun and beautifully run and I was really chuffed to come 2nd. I would have come 82nd out of 1505 with the time I swam if I’d been in the non-elite able bodied race the day before so was delighted with that and the progress I’ve made with my swim over summer.
So now I’m entering into a very exciting time. It’s the start of the 2020 Tokyo cycle for triathlon, but I won’t know if my category is included in the Paralympics until 2018 so it is just about developing and racing, then crossing fingers and hoping for the best! They are hugely supportive of me doing both sports and are doing everything possible to make it work, which makes everything a lot easier knowing that they are fully behind me.
Snowboarding is taking priority now as the 2018 Paralympics are less than 500 days away. This winter I need to train hard and race in all the world cups possible, including the World Championships in Canada in February and then the Paralympic Test Event in Pyeongchang in March. This is a crucial period as the it’s last winter before the Paralympics in 2018. I have a real good chance of getting there and, with the right training this winter and next summer, a medal is well within my reach. However, I’m really struggling to find the funds to do this as I have to pay for everything, from flights to race entry, myself. I need £3000 to get to the Paralympic Test Event and on top of that, a race board for banked slalom, then to attend another two camps that I currently don’t have the funding for, and my UK Sport money and money that I’ve earned over summer doesn’t cover them. I’m trying to raise the money here – https://makeachamp.com/cassiecava and if you can contribute in any way I would be enormously grateful and it would make a real difference to my progress this season, which ultimately decides where I get to Paralympics-wise next year. If everyone who reads this put in £20 instead of going out for dinner one night next week I will be on that flight to Pyeongchang. (In return I can offer exclusive performances of “Let it Go” from Frozen in French, Italian or German, or one of the cracking german apres-ski songs I somehow know all the words to, or could come into a school/brownies etc., make you a cup of tea, flog you some team GB kit or whatever really #desperate…*) Thank you very much if you have already contributed.
I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me up to this point. To say that my life has changed dramatically is an understatement and that is largely down to the support and love from the wonderful friends, family, teammates, coaches etc. I have all over the place. Thank you for playing whatever part you have played in this journey so far. 🙂
*If there is something serious I can do in return I’d be delighted to, especially if it’s something like talking to people about sport, life and prosthetic legs. In particular if it’s children/teenagers – I think it’s so so important to understand at that age that life will throw some absolutely crazy stuff at you and at times you’ll think there’s no way you’ll ever be able to deal with it, but that there is always a way through and life really can be wonderful no matter what.