If Josh Dueck has ever been known for anything, being a pussy isn’t one of them. A mountain boy through and through, skiing was everything to him.
Following a career as a free skier he turned to coaching and in 2004 at age 23 was head coach coordinator for Silver Star Freestyle club in British Columbia, one of the strongest clubs in both Canada and North America.
All was going great until the day Josh made a mistake. He messed up a jump, landed horrendously and wammo, his back dislocated and his spinal cord was severed. Paralysed from the waist down he thought his skiing days were over.
“One of the first strokes of luck I had after breaking my back was in the hospital, only a few hours later. The doctor came in and said, ‘you’re going to rock the world from the wheelchair, and before you know it we’ll have you back in the mountains.”
On the speakerphone to his friends and family that same day, Josh told everyone to celebrate skiing for him, and love it the way he does.
”There’s nothing to mourn here, because I’m going to be back.Josh DueckBackflipping Adaptive Skier
He was injured in March, by November he was back on the mountain, and the following year he to shredding on a sit ski.
“It quickly became an opportunity to get into racing, and ski for my county in the games in Vancouver 2010 and again in Soji in 2014.”
Over the next decade, Josh would rack up a host of accolades, including winning the 2007 Canadian Championships, a spot in the 2008 World Cup circuit squad and then winning the 2009 World Championships.
By 2010 he was a Paralympic silver medallist.
Prior to his injury he had no idea what life as paraplegic would look like. He remembers seeing a kid in a wheelchair at the liquor store one day, picking up a box of beers, the same as him.
“I couldn’t even look at him, what a shitty life. I was convinced if it happened to me I would park my wheelchair in front of a train and make it look like an accident, life is not worth living in that kind of way.”
But when he had his accident, his mind-set totally changed. Back in 2004, there was no YouTube or Facebook to turn to for inspiration, so for Josh, his saviour was someone from his own community, a fellow wheelchair user who offered up the use of his second sit ski.
“He said he was happy to support whatever I wanted to do, he really compounded on my doctor’s words of wisdom and projection of hope.”
After a video of him doing a backflip from a sit ski went viral, Josh ended up on the Ellen DeGeneres show, with around 500 million people tuning into his story.
Thus, began his journey in the spotlight. Coming from a family who loved quiet time and nature, the prospect of celebrity was not exactly palatable. But Josh, not one to turn down a challenge, chose to embrace it.
“I wanted to do something altruistic with it, use it as a platform to communicate a message of hope to others going through a difficult time.”
“The focus is common in that we provide experiences outdoor experiences for people that have recently sustained life altering or spinal cord injury. That could be anything from surfing, skiing, mountain biking, hiking, just spending time outdoors and that sensation that we all get when we’re outside in nature, fresh air and exercising.”
He believes one of the challenges people in the adaptive community face is a lack of accessibility and visibility in outdoor areas.
“There should be policies in place, so parks are positioning themselves in a way to be universally accessible and then also signage so parks and outdoor areas that are accessible for all people are well known. In general, if I was going to a place that I didn’t know I would like to have TripAdvisor jump on board and give me a map of what accessibility means and, and where I can go.”
After 10 years as a sports star, Josh became renowned for his proficiency on the mountains. It was his goal to be in the mountains every day – or as much as he possibly could.
“It was just living the dream.”
But as he looks back now on his 10-year career as a sports celebrity, hindsight is a very fine thing, as he realises his focus and dedication drove him to selfishness at times.
“I don’t know how my wife put up with me for the last 15 years.”
He was training intensely for the Soji games, when his daughter was born 2013.
“I couldn’t see the beauty for what it was. My wife asked me for one specific little thing, ‘can you take the baby, I’m exhausted’ and I just said ‘no, I’m training downhill tomorrow, that’s dangerous, I need my sleep.’”
This moment didn’t bother him at the time, but now, he calls himself an asshole.
“There’s nothing wrong with being an athlete and bettering oneself, that’s the beauty of sport, but how do you find a balance in sport and life? At the time, I don’t think I did.”
Now Josh is intentionally taking time out and re-focusing his energy onto his family. He wants to be known as the dad who stays home with the family rather than as a sports star. He still has a trunk full of newspaper clippings and video clips so one day he can teach his kids about his past, but for now, it’s all about living in the moment.
The level of Josh’s injury means he has no sensation from his belly button down and no ability to control his lower limbs. Early on in his recovery and rehabilitation journey however, he discovered yoga, stretch and massage as tools to stay flexible and recover after exercise.
Yoga is an everyday practise for him and his family which now includes his two-year-old son, as well as nutrition which includes meal prepping.
Other than yoga, Josh has many other hacks and tips for a successful life in the adaptive community. For example, using trekking poles in combination with a free wheel, to negotiate more challenging terrain, or using a harness or belt from company Body Point.
“Traditionally I would think of a belt or a harness like a seat belt for wheelchairs uses, as a limitation or a sign you’re not capable of sitting upright on your own. “
Until one day Josh tried one out, and he found himself able to do chin ups, with his wheelchair attached to his body.
“It’s given me new control and a new sense of connection to my wheelchair daily.”
Having any sort of life changing event like a spinal cord injury is an emotionally challenging time. For anyone else going through a difficult situation, Josh’s advice is to be gentle with yourself.
”Sometimes I just I find time to sit tall, so my spine is nice and straight. And I just taken a few deep breaths and that in itself has the ability to relax me in that moment when I'm feeling wound up anxious, stressed or depressed.Josh DueckBackflipping Adaptive Skier
Also maintaining sight of the bigger picture and goal setting to find what you’re good at.
“Be a master at your craft, and you’ll be amazed what that does to the people around you. It will lift them as it lifts you and then as you become better you make the world around you a better place. How can you not be depressed? How can you not be anxious? How can you not struggle just a little bit if there isn’t a need for you and your skills? But trust me, whoever you are and wherever you are, there is a need for you. You are here for a reason.”
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