Langley's Gowanlock no longer a new kid on the block
While four years hardly makes someone a seasoned veteran, there is a different feel this time around for Ashley Gowanlock.
“In Beijing, I was the new kid on the block,” she said in an email from London, where she is preparing for the Paralympic Games.
“(In 2008), I was happy that I had made the team but I had no idea what I was coming up against or what to expect so I went into the Games wide-eyed and on sensory overload,” she explained.
“This is my second Games and I have learned the ropes.”
She is considered a medal contender this time around in the para-dressage competition.
“I have been to several more international competitions with good results and have become quite comfortable with the whole process of how a big horse show runs and have a much better understanding of what my role is on the team.”
“Just having a Games under my belt makes the unknown a lot less stressful.”
The 25-year-old from Langley has been competing internationally since 2007 but she has been riding horses since she was two years old.
At an age when most kids are learning to talk, Gowanlock, who was born with cerebral palsy, was riding horses for therapeutic purposes.
Riding horses is beneficial for those with cerebral palsy as it helps the rider with their balance and core work as the horse’s movement mimics the rider’s natural movements.
She has been competing internationally since 2007, when she earned top marks in the under-21 and under-25 age categories and eighth place in the freestyle class at the world para-dressage championships in Great Britain.
“I have been taught from the very beginning that there is nothing I cannot do,” she said.
When she was six years old, Gowanlock began telling everyone she knew that one day she would go to the Olympics.
“Being a Paralympian is a but surreal,” she said.
“You get to see firsthand how everyone else in the world perceives your country and I am always so proud to be wearing the Maple Leaf on my sleeve.
“You learn quite quickly that your Olympic dream doesn’t just belong to you, it belongs to everyone who ever celebrated a victory with you or sat with you in defeat and spurred you on.
“Anytime I feel discouraged, I just think about all the people who have wished me well and said that they are proud of me and suddenly I have some wind in my sails again.”
The key in her preparation has been maintaining as much balance as possible in her life.
This is done through attending her church, where Gowanlock also volunteers as a youth leader and Sunday school teacher.
“I am very interested in also spreading the awareness of para-dressage and the possibilities that it can bring to people with physical challenges,” she said.
“I love to do public speaking of all sorts and just dispel any misconceptions that people may have about people with disabilities. That is something I would love to do more of in the future.”
While Gowanlock never found the podium in 2008, her horse for the upcoming Games certainly did.
Gowanlock will be competing on Maile, which is owned by Lauren Barwick, one of Gowanlock’s teammates on the para-dressage team. Barwick and Maile won both gold and silver in 2008.
Maile is a 1994 bay Dutch Warmblood mare.