The Local HeroAs Belfast hosts Red Bull Crashed Ice at the end of the month The Red Bulletin caught up with local hero Graeme Walton to take a look back at the event that changed his life
From working at a suburban ice rink to barrelling down a Red Bull Crashed Ice track, Belfast boy Graeme Walton’s life went from 0-100 in 2002. Months after a surprising silver in the second ever Crashed Ice event, he became the first homegrown player to line out for the Belfast Giants ice hockey team.
“I was working in the Dundonald rink after a season with a team in Scotland when I got a call from a mate who played for the Belfast Giants,” Walton remembers. “He said he couldn’t do Crashed Ice because the team’s insurance wouldn’t allow it. I said yes straight away because I wasn’t doing anything else and then I thought: ‘Oh no, what have I got myself in to.”
Walton went on to represent Great Britain at three ice hockey world championships and won every honour at club level before he retired in 2013 as the Giants’ longest serving and most successful player. And it never would have happened without a phone call out of the blue asking him if he fancied trying Crashed Ice. As Belfast hosts Red Bull Crashed Ice on February 20-21 we caught up with Walton to take a look back.
THE RED BULLETIN: How did Red Bull Crashed Ice affect your hockey career?
GRAEME WALTON: It was the first time my name got out there because the event went so well. It helped my case getting in the door with the Giants, the next year they asked me to sign so it kickstarted my career.
Were you trying to make the most of the opportunity to get attention from teams?
I didn’t do anything to be honest, I honestly didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. When I arrived I looked at the track and just thought ‘there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this.’ It was just one of those things where you’ve got to get up there and get on with it so I just went as fast as I could. The good thing for me was that there were no expectations, I could just go and enjoy myself because no one was expecting me to do very well. The pressure was off from the very start so I just went away and did the best I could really.
The track wasn’t the only thing you were scared of in Austria was it?
Haha, well… They dropped us of at this hotel, gave us the keys and we opened the door. It was totally empty, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was empty but the three of us in the group ended up sleeping in one room because we were so afraid. We were walking around waiting for someone to jump out from a doorway. It was a great event and a great time.
Did you have any plans of how to approach the actual race?
I went as fast as I could, does that count? It’s the speed of it. It’s just not as if you skate down this track of plain ice with no jumps and no rough bits or corners. Everything that goes against skating is in Red Bull Crashed Ice: they’ve got the jumps, the twists and the turns. They’ve got the hills, they’ve got everything there that doesn’t usually go with ice skating.
The BBC report from the event even said that it was your ambition to play for the Giants but the chances were remote because they weren’t signing local players
That was true at the time. I was playing in Scotland and was working in a local rink then. The year after Crashed Ice I was playing for the Giants.
It’s not as if you were a gimmick signing though because you’d had your name in the local papers though
No, no. I played ten fantastic years for them, the Giants are one of the top teams in Britain. They always competed for trophies during my time which was very fortunate for me. We managed to win every trophy in British hockey. I also won a bronze medal at the World Championships with Great Britain. I had a very successfully ten years. I’ve played the most games for the Giants, I played for ten years and over 600 games. I’m so proud of that but I’m retired now so it doesn’t really matter any more, haha.
The Giants were seen as something the whole city could get behind without any politics was that something you thought about?
You forget about everything else when you’re playing. We were just out there playing. We did a lot of work in the community with youth development and school visits so we were out there representing that the sport is for everyone whatever side of the community you were from. We just wanted to encourage people to get involved. The Giants are averaging over 5,000 people at games now which is great.
You’re a proud Belfast man and proud skater, what does it mean to have Crashed Ice come to your city?
It’s not just that. It’s going to take over an iconic building, it’s our parliament building where everything goes on. For Belfast to get a prestige event like this is something that everyone should be proud of and look forward to. There haven’t been many events like this in Belfast so people should come out and support it. I guarantee they wont be disappointed, I’m getting excited myself just talking about it.