Had I read the words “GB snowboarder Ellie Soutter triumphs at the 2019 Alpine World Ski Championships” this winter, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest. I’d have been delighted, but not surprised. But when, on 26th July 2018, I read the words “This cruel world took my soul mate and ‘Bessie’ from me yesterday on her 18th birthday” by Ellie’s dad Tony, I, like many others, couldn’t believe it.
On the face of it, Ellie had it all. Born in the UK and living in Les Gets since the age of nine with her doting dad Tony, Ellie had become one of the most promising athletes on Team GB’s British Snowboard squad. Back in the UK, Ellie’s mum Lorraine was her biggest cheerleader; she had the support and encouragement of her entire family and a very special bond with her mum.
“I’ve done it”
Ellie returned from the 2017 European Youth Olympic Winter Festival with Team GB’s only medal – a bronze in boardercross. “I’ve done it”, screamed Ellie on the telephone to her mum immediately after the comp. “I’ve got a medal!” To celebrate, Lorraine arranged for her closest family and friends to meet Ellie at Heathrow airport upon her return from Turkey, banners and all. “Oh she was so embarrassed. She wanted to hide! We were so proud of her, but she didn’t want the limelight. She just wanted to stand out for her abilities on her snowboard. That was Ellie.”
That summer, Ellie went on to train in the Southern Hemisphere for three months. When she returned, there was very little money left in the fundraising pot and Tony made an incredibly difficult decision to tell Ellie he was unable to fund another season of bordercross competition and coaching. This was devastating news for such a young, talented athlete to hear. Ellie’s abilities had progressed significantly, and she’d sacrificed so much follow her dream. “The news sent Ellie into a really dark place for a good while” Tony tells me.
Last winter, Tony took the cheaper option and drove Ellie the length and breadth Europe, competing in every stop of the Junior Freeride World Tour. She triumphed, becoming vice champion in one of her sport’s toughest contests. “Of course I was super proud of her snowboarding achievements,” Ellie’s mum Lorraine tells me, “but I was already so proud of her”.
With all of these successes under her belt, Ellie eventually secured sponsors and funding to cover some of the huge costs of her training camps and travel for the next four years, right up until the 2022 Winter Olympics. The future was very bright for a young Ellie Soutter.
Adoring parents, so many close friends and her dream career as a professional snowboarder right there in front of her. How could this happen?
When Ellie took her own life on her 18th birthday it rocked our community to its very core. We live alongside each other in these beautiful mountains without realising that, for some, life is not OK. For some, life is filled with too much pressure, too much expectation, too much worry. But surely not for Ellie? Adoring parents, so many close friends and her dream career as a professional snowboarder right there in front of her. How could this happen?
“Young athletes are under an incredible amount of pressure” Ellie’s dad tells me. “When their friends are all going out, doing the things that normal teenagers do, athletes have to think carefully about the consequences of a big night out. This can be hard for teenagers; they feel like they’re missing out on so much.”
“You’d never know the loneliness she suffered.”
Education was also a big issue. To cram the final years of her education in around snowboarding, Ellie was home schooled. “This could be lonely for her and it reduced her social life massively” says Tony. “Ellie would call me before every single competition” Lorraine tells me. “I’d calm her down and tell her the outcome didn’t really matter. She worried about her performance all the time”. Ellie gave no clue to her personal struggles. Not to her Team GB teammates, her coaches or her closest friends. “She didn’t want people to know she had issues”, Lorraine tells me. “She was the life and soul of the party and she had a wicked sense of humour. You’d never know the loneliness she suffered. She felt it just wasn’t cool to show any signs of weakness”.
And then there’s money. Travelling constantly to join training camps or to compete, there’s no Saturday job for an aspiring professional snowboarder. There’s no summer job to pay for next winter’s kit. There’s no financial independence. “Ellie worried so much about money” Tony explains. “Until very recently she was entirely self-funded. She was also very aware that a winter season’s worth of competing and training would cost in excess of €32,000”.
“She hadn’t broken anything, but the concussions really knocked her confidence.”
“Did you know that Ellie had a huge crash at the Natural Games in Avoriaz at the end of the season?” Tony asks me. I had no clue. “It was pretty serious. When I went to collect her kit from the medical centre in Avoriaz two days later, the doctor couldn’t believe they’d let her out of hospital so soon. She’d suffered major concussion and had to take 90 days off snow to recover”. This accident followed another concussion during a stage of the Junior Freeride World Tour only 30 days earlier. “Ellie was nervous to start snowboarding again after these two big accidents. She hadn’t broken anything, but the concussions really knocked her confidence”.
As Tony and Lorraine explain these things to me, a picture starts to emerge of a stressed teenager. One who felt every gram of expectation on her young shoulders. I never saw Ellie looking unhappy. Her Instagram feed is filled with fun. Her Facebook bio reads ‘Occasionally doing cool things with my snowboard’. Ellie gave no clue to her private struggles. She was humble and grateful and had a smile for everyone she met.
If you Google Ellie Soutter today, you’ll find over 500,000 results. So many words have been written about her, from the Independent in the UK to Hollywood Life in the US. I try to imagine what Ellie would think of all the media attention. “If I even dared post a podium picture or suggest how proud I was of Ellie’s achievements, she shot me down straight away”, Tony tells me. “She had no idea how naturally talented and brave she was, and no clue of how many people admired that talent and followed her worldwide. We’ve all been staggered by the overwhelming international response to her death”.
But it’s amongst all this media attention, not because of it, that Ellie’s family have established The Ellie Soutter Foundation. Its aim is to help other young winter sports athletes to fund their training and give them the essential skills to deal with the unavoidable stress, pressure and expectation that comes with competing at the highest level. In the weeks following Ellie’s death, over €20,000 was raised on Ellie’s gofundme page.
“I just wish Ellie had given herself more time to realise how important she was to everyone”
“Young people need to know that it’s OK to speak up. They also need a network of people around them to confidentially offer support and encouragement” believes Lorraine. “As a mum having lost a daughter, I now need to ask for help to get through every day. This is Ellie’s legacy; it’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. I just wish Ellie had given herself more time to realise how important she was to everyone”.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to help countless talented teenagers fulfil their sporting potential in the years to come”, explains Tony. “But if we can prevent just one teenager from suffering silently, as Ellie did, then it will all be worth it”.
For updates on The Ellie Soutter Foundation and for donation links head to www.theelliesoutter.foundation