IT MAY have been seven years since his last Winter Games appearance, but the Paralympic fire still burns brightly in British sledge hockey skipper Ian Warner.
The 38-year-old is one of three survivors in the current squad to have appeared at the Nagano Games in 1998 and was in the side that finished seventh in Turin in the 2006 Paralympics.
GB missed out on the last Games, but this weekend the full-time solicitor leads his squad back to Turin where they will take on Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and Sweden in a six-nation tournament, with the top three set to qualify for Sochi 2014.
Warner is in no doubt the current crop have what it takes to make it all the way to Sochi and cause a stir amongst the medal favourites next year.
“I’ve been playing sledge hockey for about 19 years now," said Warner, who plays for the Kingston Kestrels.
"I picked it up when I was at university, I was doing wheelchair racing and just going round and round the athletics track on my own, which was getting a bit tedious. Some guys said I should have a go and I’ve been playing it ever since.
“We have a great team environment and there’s a great camaraderie in the dressing room. On the ice, it’s such a fast,-action packed sport. Full contact.
“Competing in the Paralympics is amazing. In Turin we played Italy twice and won on both occasions in front of about 3,000 people and it was just such a fantastic atmosphere.
“Captaining the team is a great honour and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”
One of the most popular sports at the Paralympic Games, sledge hockey is fast and furious, with players using two sticks instead of one to propel themselves around the ice and control the puck.
The players are entirely self-funded and were struggling to pay for the trip to Turin until BT stepped in to help sponsor the team.
“It’s extremely important to have them on board,” added Warner, who uses a wheelchair after a spinal impairment, acquired through illness when he was younger.
“Having BT come and help us out takes the pressure off and allows us to go out and compete and try to win.”
BT is supporting Nathan Stephens and British Sledge Hockey in their bid to complete at the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi next year. BT has supported the British Paralympic Association since 1989.