August 12, 2021
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games approaching, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on what truly makes an athlete, an athlete. Is it their strength? Fitness level? Stamina? Consistency? While all of these factors are of consideration, there is one athlete in particular who puts all Olympic athlete qualifications into perspective.
Meet, Beatrice de Lavalette
Looking from the outside in, twenty-three-year-old Beatrice de Lavalette originated from a pretty “normal” life consisting of a supportive family, athletics, and of course, horses. Having the ability to get into horses at a young age, due to her mothers' involvement and experience, Beatrice balanced her time participating in track and field, soccer, and horseback riding (including a game called Horse Ball). It wasn’t until Beatrice was introduced to “Dee Dee”, a sweet white Mare, that the pair became more competitive in the sport and specifically in Dressage.
Moving between France and then Belgium, Bea also spent some of her time in the United States where her brothers attended college. Specifically, on March 17, 2016 Beatrice was standing in line at the Brussels Airport preparing to travel to the U.S. for Spring Break when her plans were suddenly altered. Standing right next to her, Beatrice soon found herself beside a terrorist bomber where her life, as well as many others, were quickly endangered and without time to take caution. “There are no real words to describe that day, but it was the start of my new life,” shared Bea.
Having lost both her legs during the accident, Beatrice spent four months in the ICU where she fought endlessly for her life and recovery. After five months, Beatrice was visited by her sweet, Dee Dee, where she was immediately installed with hope and excitement for her new life. Bea completed her rehab at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego where she was led by highly experienced professionals that taught Bea how to become more self-sufficient and navigate her fitness and recovery.
Image Courtesy of Kathy Russell for Corro
A New Life
Bea set four short-term goals for herself while she was in the ICU, all of which she has achieved. These include going back to school six months after the accident, riding in her first para-equestrian competition one year after the accident as an invited rider at France’s Haras de Jardy, graduating with her friends on time, and being chosen to represent Team USA at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Soon after Bea’s successful recovery, she decided to put college on hold in order to dedicate her time to prepare for her dream of competing in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. With strong goals set in place, Bea’s father flew Dee Dee to San Diego and Bea immediately began training with Shayna Simon at Arroyo Del Mar. They put all of their time and effort into Bea’s fourth goal she had set forward for her new life.
Image Courtesy of Elizabeth de Lavalette
A Paralympic Dream
Preparing for the Paralympics takes absolute dedication, consistency, passion, and talent. When it comes to Beatrice, it takes all of these aspects...and then some. What may be a simple request of the horse for an able-bodied rider takes a heck of a lot more for Beatrice. As Bea’s trainer Shayna describes it, "para riders are usually much better than your average rider because they don't have the luxury of strength and therefore must rely on their mental strength much more."
With a current training schedule out of Equidae Dressage Stables located in Loxahatchee, Florida, Bea currently trains three to four times a week (incorporating time to rest and recover before Tokyo). Bea also incorporates a few personal training sessions on the ground as she feels it's important for her abilities to match her horse’s fitness level. One of her favorite ways to get into shape is utilizing her bike at home. Leading up to Tokyo, Bea shares that she often trains with the mindset and intensity as if she is already in Tokyo. That means practicing the tests every ride along with other factors she may face in the Paralympic ring.
Chosen to represent Team USA at the Paralympics, competing in Para-dressage. Bea shares her most recent challenges and goals for the big event. ”Keeping my horse forward at all times will be my main goal for the Paralympics. Clarc likes to be a little lazy and it can be pretty difficult for me to get him to move forward in such a way that I am not constantly pushing him,” shares Bea.
Working on going forward may seem like a simple task for most riders, but a much more complex one for para-equestrians like Bea. Having an academic approach to learning how to create the forward movement in harmony is key in these types of situations, including taking the time to understand the biomechanics of the horse. Learning how to ask the horse properly and efficiently in order to get the required result so that the rider may focus on other things is of much importance.
Such actions as manipulating the horse’s rib cage and weight using subtle aids to keep the energy through the horse's body (and the rider's body) are Bea’s most useful tool. In addition to keeping her horse forward, Bea does a lot of repetition work, visual drawing, and watching videos so that when she does mount her horse, muscle memory kicks in and allows her to truly focus on what is correct.
Image Courtesy of Kathy Russell for Corro
What It Takes to be a Paralympic Athlete
Bea’s most useful skills acquired in pursuit of qualifying (and now competing) in the Paralympics include practicing mental game preparation, installing specific goals, knowing exactly what you're trying to achieve, practicing repetition so it becomes muscle memory, and lastly, believing in yourself. Like any competitive sport, the pressure and training can be rigorous and that is why Bea believes it is so important to prioritize your own well-being as well as your horses in order to achieve optimal success.
Bea utilizes Psychologists to handle her everyday mental pressures as well as those that come with being a Paralympic athlete. In order to prevent burnout, Bea makes sure she installs rest days for both her and her horse and believes it’s important to have a life outside of riding to recharge and get a fresh perspective. Some of Bea’s favorite activities on these days include going on the boat or playing pool.
There is no question that Bea is an absolute inspiration to the equestrian community and athletes worldwide (to say the least). For anyone looking to become involved in the para-equestrian world, Bea simply says, “Welcome to the family.” Bea emphasizes how supportive and charismatic the para-equestrian community is and how important it is to find the right coach and horse in order to fully maximize success throughout the process.
“There have been some ups and downs since my accident, but I am doing the best I can. Whatever I do now, I know I have been given the opportunity to do something amazing with my life… and I am going to do it,” says Bea.