Ski and snowboard accidents are never pretty and while we push the idea of life altering injuries and even death to the side as we seek out the powder, the truth is both happen.
A torn ACL, even a fractured femur sustained while skiing or snowboarding fades into comparison when American sit skier Greg Mallory talks about his own ski injury.
“I broke my back in 1994 while jumping off a rock outcropping at Mount Hood Meadows. Since I remained conscious, I was aware that I was paralyzed pretty quickly. Ski patrol was on me quick and did a great job of getting me down and into the mountain clinic.
After a back surgery and three weeks in rehab, the result was that I was completely paralyzed below my belt line due to a bruised spinal cord.”
Quotes from Nat Geo Adventure Blog article on “Walk on Water” Film: Greg Mallory Finds Kayaking After a Life-Altering Accident – Beyond the Edge.
Greg Mallory shattered his vertebrae on a minor jump he had done many times. Rather than let the mountain get him down he went on to captain the US Disabled Ski Team and to find a new love, kayaking, explored in the film “Walk on Water.”
Surprisingly many skiers and snowboarders return to the mountains post injury determined to embrace the terrain that changed their lives for good. When meeting Utah skier Chris Waddell for the first time at The Canyons it is not the sit ski that stands out (a sit ski that will smoke me on the slopes later that day) it is his eyes. There is a reason Waddell was voted into People Magazine’s Top 50 most beautiful people.
But his eyes reveal more than just beauty, they show a positive spirit and energy that transformed Waddell from hopeful Olympic skier at nineteen to record breaking Paralympic Medal winner X years later after a broken back from a minor ski incident left him paralysed from the waist down.
Waddell went on to win twelve medals over four games in both the summer and winter Paralympics and became the first paraplegic to summit Mt Kilimanjaro unassisted. He founded the One Revolution program which aims to change the way the world sees people with disabilities. Did we mention the Dalai Lama named him an unsung hero for compassion?
The media consistently heralds the best able bodied skiers and snowboarders (mostly male) but it is those skiers and snowboarders that have overcome physical and mental challenges that I consistently find more inspiring and many times, more humble. I find it hard enough on some days to just walk out my front door, let alone use a hand cycle to climb the dizzying heights of Mt Kilimanjaro.
“It’s freedom for someone with mobility issues because I don’t have mobility issues on my sit ski,” says Sauer. “There is nowhere I feel more at home than at the top of a ski hill before a race with fellow adaptive skiers.”
I wrote last year in the Fairfax Snow It All Blog titled ‘How skiing can save your life’ about Jason Sauer and Murray Bartram. One lost both legs through a heroin overdose and is now a freeskiing sit skier who claims skiing has saved his life and the other was born with cerebal palsy and has gone on to ski Alaska’s big mountains from a helicopter two years running.
“Skiing is what got me through the grief,” says Murray. “I skied every day for four weeks, just free-skiing to help me with the loss. Dad always wanted me to ski and supported my passion. When I ski I think of dad.”
Both Sauer and ‘Muzz’ credits skiing as the key to helping them grieve the loss of their father and Sauer says skiing helped him deal with the loss of his legs through drug addiction. Simply meeting and skiing with both is enough to put rich-Gen-Y-snow-kid-problems to shame.
Then there’s the amazing efforts of Josh Dueck who, at the age of twenty three, was paralysed from the waist down while coaching future skiing Olympians. Rather than turn his back on the snow that claimed his legs, he has dedicated his life to one of purpose and service, winning silver in ski racing at the Vancouver Paralympics and became the first sit skier to do a backflip in 2012 in Whistler’s backcountry.
The test of a person is not how they embrace life but how they embrace life when it changes. The world is filled with stories of tragedy and human spirit, the snow world not least of all.
Who inspires you when skiing or snowboarding? How would you handle a life altering ski or snowboard accident? How has skiing or snowboarding changed or saved your life?