The Snow Leopard
Kwame Nkrumah Achaempong, aka the Snow Leopard, was Ghana’s first Winter Olympian. His story often likened to the Cool Runnings Jamaican Bobsled team, is one of achieving an impossible dream and overcoming adversity. Kwame learnt to ski indoors at Milton Keynes Ski Slope, at the age of twenty-nine, whilst working as a duty manager. After six years racing in the FIS world cup, he qualified for Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010.
Tell us a bit about your story?
I was born in Glasgow whilst my dad was studying there, but returned home to Ghana to go to school and university. I always loved sport and in particular, athletics and tennis was where I competed at a good level. I came back to Britain to study for a Masters in Tourism Marketing at Westminster University: I then got a job at the Milton Keynes Xscape indoor Snow Centre as a duty manager. After work, I had a go at skiing: it was there that my competitive side kicked in. We did a few races for fun, and at the time, I recall someone saying they thought I would make a good ski-racer.
Although it was a bit of a joke, the seed was planted. I was given a few bits of advice, soon after, an opportunity came up to race in Val D’Sere for a bit of a PR stunt and dare. If I raced well, I would be given support from a company called Basecamp to learn to ski faster. It was always a juggling act to bring in enough money, so I usually had various different part time jobs, alongside working with sponsors and racing opportunities. Given my heritage, I was something of a novelty as there were not many other black skiers at the time. The media loved the story, but couldn’t pronounce my name and hence the name The Snow Leopard came to life.
I had to form a Ghana Ski Association to allow me to race on the international circuit. After six years of struggling to earn a living, I qualified for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Step one of my big dream had come true. I then wanted to make sure that I could share Ghana and the Ghana Ski Team experience with the world, so the hard work was only just beginning.
The Canadian people literally took us into their hearts and we had support from the Canadian Tourist Commission and Tourism Mount Washington, along with the people of Commox Valley on Vancouver Island who hosted our pre Olympic training camp. It was very humbling to receive the support of so many people. My focus and job was to ski well and show that a Ghanaian could ski and finish well. So if I could do it with no real funding or coaching, having started aged twenty-nine, then imagine what a young Snow Leopard could do in future.
Since the Olympics, I have been focused on trying to build an artificial ski slope close to Accra to support the dream of more Snow Leopards and a bigger Ghana Ski Team.
What motivates you?
I think that life is great. Just living and breathing and having the opportunity to be great.
Do you have a mantra or motto you try to live by?
I believe that with hard work that there is nothing I can’t do. You set your own limits and boundaries.
What are your key values that you have learnt in life and try to live by?
Work hard and you will get your reward. Try to be as fair as you can to your fellow man but never allow yourself to be cheated in any way.
What is the most challenging thing you have done?
I think that would be getting married to my lovely wife Senna
If you hadn’t pursued your dream, what would you have done instead?
I would have loved to have been an Astronaut.
How did your dad inspire or support your goals and dreams?
My dad brought me up to be tough. He gave me the great gift of a love for reading, and he also gave me a fighting spirit
What sort of relationship did you have with your dad whilst growing up?
A very good one, he is a very educated man; he shared his ideas with me openly.
What has been the most challenging aspect of becoming a dad?
My kids depend on me for everything, so i can’t make mistakes when it comes to them.
What do you think are the secrets of good parenting?
Always know that kids are just small looking adults, wanting to try everything. It’s your responsibility as a parent to point them in the right direction always
If you were to pick three people who have really helped you in your life, who would they be?
My dad, My mum and Kwame Nkrumah [Ghana’s first president]
Who inspires you?
My kids, Jason and Elise
Who would be the one person you would pick from history to meet and have a conversation with?
Kwame Nkrumah [Ghana’s first president]
Quick fire round…
Name of first pet? Shaggy
Favourite film? The Matrix
Last holiday? UK
Recommend a book? Any of the books by Isaac Asimov.
Most embarrassing moment? There are just too many to count or pick from