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Josh Dueck, Freedom Skier - Explore

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Sierra Daily

06/07/2012

Josh Dueck, Freedom Skier

Sit-skier Josh Dueck has “FREEDOM” tattooed across his abdomen in big black letters. He says the word signifies his ability to express himself through movement, to weave through trees in deep powder or between gates on a slalom course. Most recently, it means hucking backflips.

On February 3, in the backcountry of southeast British Columbia, Dueck became the first sit-skier to perform the trick. It launched him fameward, generating a barrage of media attention from the likes of CBS and Ellen Degeneres, (the latter gave him a parka with her name on it).

Josh Dueck hucks at Chatter CreekDueck was once an able-bodied aspiring freestyle skier. He began sit-skiing (also called mono-skiing) after a 2004 injury left him without the use of his legs. He overshot a jump, overrotated a flip, and crashed on his stomach from 100 feet up. The blow dislocated his spine and severed his spinal cord. He started coping immediately. “In the ambulance I was repeating to myself that everything happens for a reason, that everything in my life had prepared me for this moment,” he told Explore. “I knew I’d be ok. I was worried about my parents.” But after the doctors rebuilt his back with pieces of metal, the shock goggles dissolved away, and he had trouble fending off reality. The pain was so bad he couldn’t talk. Horse tranquilizers were barely any use. The only thing he could muster was asking his dad to pull the plug.

Things got better quickly. By 2006 he was racing on a sit ski (despite, he insists, an aversion to spandex). He went on to win medals in the Paralympics, the World Cup, and the Winter X Games. But he’d always wanted to return to freeskiing –- there simply wasn’t an institution for it in the sit-ski world. One of his ongoing goals is to change that. “I think a lot of people do freeride on sit skis, but a lot of attention is on ski racing. I’ve met a lot of people who want an avenue to do freeriding and just don’t have one. Maybe one day we’ll get some freeride contests going.”

Although he admits that a sit ski isn’t as intuitive as a human body, Dueck keeps his focus on the excitement of sit-skiing –- and mountain biking, surfing, and wakeboarding –- rather than mulling over what could have been. Now that it’s summer, he’s busy with a few projects. He’s on the board of Live It, Love It, a nonprofit that seeks to widen the availability of for adaptive adventure sports, and he’s working with Canadian officials to build a top-secret, better sit ski. He laments the exclusivity of the venture, but hopes that it’ll pay off in the form of a widely-available sit ski a few years from now -– one with a slower rebound that’s friendlier to sit-freeskiers.

Image courtesy of Alain Sleigher

HS_JakeAbrahamson-- Jake Abrahamson is the editorial assistant at Sierra

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