A selfish decision on the slopes changed Josh Dueck's life forever.
But even as he lay on the mountain at Silver Star Resort, unable to move, after a failed Superman front flip in 2004, he didn't pity himself. As stunned ski patrollers and friends rushed to his aid, Dueck told a full house at the GLC March 27 that he will always remember the actions of others on that day.
"I knew what had happened. I had traumatized a lot of people," said Dueck, who was a 23-year-old coach at the resort at the time. "A lot of homies were hanging out that day and they had to watch something super stupid.
"My heart was breaking because I knew it was bad. I knew that something was wrong with me, but I could see with everybody it was a really, really super bad day. I could see it in their eyes and that went right into my core."
At the start of the night, the fifth and final installment of the Mountain Story Live Interview Series, Dueck briefly described a challenging childhood growing up in a poor household, opening himself up to being a target of bullies in the east Kootenay town of Kimberley. Always fighting to fit in, sometimes, he fought too hard, often doing something "stupid" to gain the attention and approval of others. The day of his accident, he ignored the advice of fellow coach Brett Wood.
"Woody tells me it's variable speed and a pretty flat takeoff. 'So whatever you do, don't do a front flip,'" he recalled of his friend's words. "Nobody tells me what to do.
"I was set in my mind to do that. I was coming down the in-run a little too fast, and I was like, it's bound to slow down.
"To that point in my life, I had dodged so many bullets. I had ignored that voice so many times."
Lacking the experience to make the split-second decision in the air, Dueck landed on his chest, dislocated his back and was knocked unconscious.
"To that point, I lived by the motto if I don't hurt anybody else, it doesn't matter," he said. "Growing up, getting picked on all the time, I was pretty sad inside. I didn't really care if I died. I know it's a shitty thing to say, but to that point, I didn't really care. I wasn't afraid of dying.
"But I didn't think getting hurt would have this effect. It was a punch in the face."
Dueck was airlifted to Vancouver, and one doctor told him nearly straightaway he'd "rock" a sit-ski sooner than later. Within a year, he did.
Another positive byproduct was a visit from an ex-girlfriend who had dropped everything to rush to his bedside. Dueck and Lacey later married and now have a daughter.
"I changed in a big way in the best possible way. Would I like to walk again? Would I like the function of my lower body back again? Sure. Would I trade what I've learned for it? Not a chance. Life is incredible. We need to find what our uniqueness is, what our spark is, what makes us special."
Back on the mountain, the former provincial-team member adjusted to racing life, struggling immensely when he first started, but quickly found a groove, becoming a world champion in 2009, earning an X Games gold in mono skier X and three Paralympic medals, including a super-combined gold last year in Sochi.
Though Dueck found his greatest success as a ski racer, he was always a free skier at heart. It was filmmaker and freeskier Mike Douglas who helped him rekindle his love of it, first featuring him in the Salomon Freeski TV episode "The Freedom Chair." Admittedly afraid of heights, Dueck regularly received the opportunity to face those fears, becoming the first person to pull off a backflip in a sit-ski in 2012, earning him 30 interviews a day for a month, including most famously on Ellen with comedian Ellen DeGeneres.
Dueck, who retired from competition in November, said he and his family plan to move into a mobile home to explore the continent and help him share his story. He credits the ski community for helping him maintain a feeling of acceptance after his injury at a time where he could have had to fight hard to fit in once again.
"I don't necessarily feel like I need to prove myself the way I once did, so my gauge for risk, my desire for risk, my willingness to be dead certainly doesn't exist anymore," he said.
"But at the same time, it's important to live, and live large, and live fully and absolutely take risks. If I'm just a bump on a log, that's no better than being absent at all.
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