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).
Dueck 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.