Kimberley native and gold-medal paralympian, Josh Dueck arrived in Kimberley this week to speak to Selkirk and McKim students about his experience being seriously injured as a worker, the importance of safety on the job and how he realized his dreams despite his injury.
Dueck learned to ski at the age of 13 and at 15 he joined the local freestyle ski club. He dreamed of competing in the Olympics, however financial constraints held that dream back, and Josh refocused his passion as head coach of Silver Star Freestyle Ski Club in Vernon.
While preparing students for the 2004 Canadian Junior Nationals, Josh went too fast on a demonstration jump and overshot the landing hill.
“Intuition said stop, but my ego made me go,” said Dueck, who dropped 100 feet, hitting the ground, resulting in a severed spine and broken back. At the age of 23, Dueck was paralyzed from the waist down.
Dueck says that despite the injury, he knew right away that he would be back on the ski hill.
“I knew immediately,” said Dueck. “That was from the sage wisdom of the doctor in the emergency room. When he evaluated, saw that I dislocated my back, severed my spinal chord and would be paralyzed from the waist down, he immediately hinted at, you know, ‘we’ll have you back on the mountains, riding a sit ski one day with all your friends.’ That was just enough. It was like he opened the window and let in a little bit of light on a very dark moment, and gave me hope. As I learned I was going to be paralyzed, I also learned that I was going to be skiing.”
With that bit of inspiration, Dueck worked through rehabilitation in one-third of the expected time and was back on the ski hill shortly thereafter. He won three Canadian championships by 2007, later won a silver in slalom at the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Whistler and won gold and silver in the super-combined and downhill ski categories at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics in Russia.
Dueck said the best piece of advice he can give to you skiers and athletes is the “value of listening to your body’s wisdom.”
“We’ve heard that in all shapes and forms it’s your intuition, your gut instinct, but we’re born with and we develop this incredible wisdom in our body to steer us from danger,” he said. “For me, when I was younger, it was really easy to just ignore it. A part of that was just my insecurity, a part of that was my sense of invincibility; I got really good at just throwing it on the back burner and you know, inevitably the cards were stacked against me; eventually it all fell apart. I took a big hit, which has left me paralyzed from the waist down.
“So body wisdom; listen to it, take advantage of it, and practice listening to it as well. Because we’ve numbed it out for so long, you need to warm up to it, develop a relationship with it, and as you build on that I think it’s something that will help you in making great choices in all capacities of life, not just in sport.”
When asked what inspired him to come to the schools in the Kootenays and Elk Valley to tell his story, Dueck responded by saying, “For me, I absolutely love the art of storytelling. There are storytellers that have inspired me and I’m doing my best to continue that legacy, and be a person that shares some of the wisdom that I’ve been given in life.
“I also love the fact that I get to come home and be back in the Valley and see some of my old friends; old teachers and reconnect that way, because there’s still lessons that I need to learn and things that I’m working on in my life that when I get to come home they reveal themselves in different ways.”
Dueck is currently residing in Vernon with his wife and two kids, his daughter Nova who is three and a half, and his son Hudson who is six months.
“Life is a whole lot different today than it was just a few years ago,” said Dueck. “Life has taken a whole different form of busy, I am travelling a lot less, I’m home a lot more which is great. My kids are my little teachers. My daughter, she’s a little bit of medicine for me because she’s a whole lot like me, which is really outspoken and really determined and really strong and she challenges me every single day and I love it.”
When asked if his kids will ski, Dueck responded with, “Yep. We’ve already got Nova on skis the last couple years, and just enough where she’s getting the familiarity with putting on her ski costume and getting skis on her feet; feeling what it’s like to move around in snow. She’s pretty good, very comfortable at the idea of it and really excited to get some hot chocolate afterwards.
“If she’s into it and she wants it, great, we will support her and if not then I think there’s a lot of other cool avenues for people to express themselves as well.”