health

This Aussie Olympian broke her back. Now she's a pilates instructor.

Steph Prem
Steph Prem

By NAT

Imagine this.

You are a professional snowboarder, taking part in your last training run for the day.

You try for a jump – a big one – and you know, as soon as you’re in the air, that you’ve done something wrong. That something is about to happen, and it’s not going to be be good.

You’re in the air for far too long. You come down, you miss the landing and you land – hard – on the left side of your body.

You fracture vertebrae, you compress the discs in your back, you dislocate your hip, you tear your pelvis, you tear a hamstring.

Your rehabilitation is bound to be long. Your body will never be the same. You will probably never be able to snowboard again.

So what do you do?

You put yourself through extensive rehab. You work your butt off to get better. You take a serious interest in your own health, and open a brand new health and fitness studio in Melbourne.

All of the above is exactly what Stephanie Prem, professional snowboarder, managed to do after a major accident in 2010.

Her story is a truly remarkable one – full of resilience, strength and surprises.

I had a chat to Steph to find out more about her life, her snowboarding career and her brand new pilates studio.

Here’s what she had to tell me:

Nat: How did you get into the whole snowsports thing? 

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Steph: I started skiing as a kid and I absolutely hated it. I couldn’t do it. I was just lucky that my parents became passionate about snowsports later in their life and really enjoyed it, so they encouraged me and bought me a secondhand snowboard when I was 12, for my birthday. My dad had taken up snowboarding in the 80s and he still snowboards today – he’s 61! He taught me how to snowboard when I was 12 and I’ve never turned back.

Steph doing rehabilitation
Steph doing rehabilitation

Did you always want to be an Olympian? 

I never thought I’d be an Olympian. Growing up, it wasn’t one of my hopes and dreams and I just never even thought it would be possible for me. I’m just REALLY competitive and love sports, and when I started snowboarding, I just found a little outlet for my fever.

I only really started believing in the Olympic dream when I was 18 or 19, and this started to follow through into my riding. It became a lot more clear to me that there was a possibility of being an international champion. I was studying art, drama at dance at uni at the time and just thought – I’ll put this on hold and go out and give snowboarding a go for a year. Fast-forward six or seven years, I followed through and went to the Olympics! It was very late to the game in terms of professional sport, but I made it.

I’m guessing the Olympics was the highlight of your snowboarding career?  

Yep – nothing else in my life will ever compare to the moment of standing at the top of a racecourse, ready to compete for your nation. But there are other highlights too, such as when I won the overall Canadian championship. At the time, I was travelling with no support, no help and no funding, just living with host families at different ski resorts and joining different ski clubs and different ski teams and having a go. Winning the championship gave me the drive to move forward for the next few years – it reminded me that everything is possible.

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Everyone thinks the professional snowboarding life is a really glamorous one – would you agree with that? 

There’s different facets to the snowboarding life and mine was definitely not the glamorous one.There were definitely perks and I wouldn’t trade it for the world – it was originally my passion that turned into my job, and nothing beats the feeling of being up in the mountain for me – but doing what I did professionally and trying to go to the Olympics was not easy.

When I was competing, there was no support for female athletes in snow sports in Australia. It was hard to get sponsorship and to tell people that you were a professional snowboarder – no one took you seriously.

There was not a lot of hope for me, leading up to the games. The four-year trek through to the Olympics was hard, with a lot of crashes and bed-hopping through host families. But I love a challenge and I loved the lifestyle and the travel and the people.

So how did you come back from your major accident in 2010?  

Steph has opened her own studio
Steph has opened her own studio, Premium Performance.

It was really tough to come back from and it’s taken four years for me – I still go to a rehab specialist once or twice per week and I’ll be working through it still for a couple of years. But I’m thrilled to be back snowboarding. I’ll never compete again but I’m still excited to be back on the snow. And I still can’t jog or do a lot of high-impact things but I’m thrilled to do what I do now and live without pain. I was living with pain for a very long time.

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My health was the main motivation for opening my own studio. I just love health and fitness, I’ve always been obsessed with it, and even though my health was taken away from me because of my injury, I was so keen to get back into it. And now there’s something for everyone!

It’s a health and fitness studio and we do personal training, pilates, barre classes, TRX classes and boot camps – for male and female. My clients aren’t there because they hate themselves and they hate their bodies. They’re there because they love their bodies, they love health and fitness and they enjoy the company and the vibe they get from all the other people.

What’s your number one health philosophy? 

Health is your wealth – your health should be your absolute number one, nothing else. I’ve also learned the hard way to not take your body for granted! We only get one body, one little vessel to live in. Take the best care of it as you can.

Flick through a glimpse of Steph’s life (via her Instagram…)

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And in other sports news from the week… 

– FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association are both being sued by a group of female footballers from 12 different countries – because they plan to use artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

The footballers are claiming sexual discrimination, given that every men’s World Cup tournament has been played on real grass. And yes, there is a difference between the two – fake grass both changes the game and poses a safety risk to players.

Apparently, FIFA will not respond until it has fully considered the request – we’ll keep you updated.

– Our superstar Opals have made their way into the quarter-finals of the women’s basketball world championships. They managed wins over Turkey, Cuba and South Korea this week. Best of luck for the rest of the competition!

– Southern Stars cricketer Jodie Fields has launched a personal scholarship scheme, which will assist promising young female cricketers around the state. The inaugural recipient of the scholarship was 12-year-old Charli Knott from Mackay.

Have you seen anything in the sporting world that you’d like to talk about? 

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