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The Freedom Chair: Josh Dueck brings his story to 5Point

by Nick Cunkelman

It is often said in the world of skiing that this sport, this peculiar sport where we strap boards to our feet, propel ourselves with sticks and arc our way down snow-covered mountains, gives us freedom. It is also often said in the world of skiing that this freedom is profound—a feeling like nothing else. Indeed, in this world where mountains and snow and motion collide, it is said that skiing is a profound feeling like nothing else.

Josh Dueck, star of Switchback ProductionsThe Freedom Chair, knows all of this. As a former head coach of the Silver Star Freestyle Ski Club in Vernon, B.C., he experienced it all first-hand. His students—skiers like T.J. Schiller, Josh Bibby, Riley Leboe, and Justin Dorey—are now etched into freeskiing’s history, a tapestry of cold mornings, switch takeoffs and smooth landings.

In 2004, however, the then 23-year-old Dueck overshot a jump during training for the Canadian Junior Nationals and fell 100 feet to earth, dislocating his back and severing his spinal cord. He lost all feeling below his waist. Yet now, eight years later, Dueck is a Paralympic silver medalist, an X Games mono skier X gold medalist and has landed the first backflip on a sit-ski. Credit that profound feeling.

“Keeping my head up and looking forward to the sport of sit skiing [after my accident] gave me hope,” said Dueck “[And now I’m] continuing to share my journey with as many people as possible and be actively involved with those who have encountered challenges in their life and need help along the way.”

The learning curve to get to where he is today was steep. Imagine having to relearn your balance points for something that was as second nature as walking, but, then again, imagine having been a seasoned competitive freestyle skier. Imagine having to adjust to your equipment continuously, but, then again, imagine having the support of thousands of other skiers and paraplegics.

“I was amazed at how everything I knew about skiing before my accident came back,” said Dueck. “It takes a village to raise a child, and a community to raise an athlete.”

Dueck’s community came out in full force at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympic Games, and the reality is that it’s only grown from there. Before the Games, Dueck and his wife, Lacey, sold “Go Josh Go” t-shirts as a travel fundraising effort; the byproduct of the t-shirt campaign was how it united his community of friends and family. Looking into the crowd from the course, Dueck saw friends from all corners of the world, all there to cheer him on.

“It was really cool, there was this motley crew,” he said. “And for the first time I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I want to compete, I kind of want to be in the crowd, that looks like fun.’”

Now, after competing on the World Cup circuit for a number of years as well, Dueck’s backcountry prowess—showcased in the film—is beginning to shine. He’s looking for ways to expand his skills, be it through transport and equipment, and already has a few ideas, such as using snowshoes on his outriggers when crossing level terrain or ski-joring to go uphill.

“The exploration is really interesting for me right now,” said Dueck. “I’m easy to please in the backcountry. It doesn’t take much for me to be submerged in overhead blower pow. There could be a foot of fresh and I’ll have an epic day.”

And so, as he muses on improvements to sit-ski technology for paraplegics like himself—ideally fitting oneself to the chair and ski so that one gets seamless response with each turn—he is also riding that feeling, the one that never leaves a skier, even when you’ve lost the movement in your legs.

“Before, [skiing] was a way to express myself, but now, with reduced motion in the rest of my body, I can’t even put into words what it gives me,” he said. “[Still, what] I didn’t foresee in the sit-ski before I started was how challenging it was going to be to connect the body to the machine. If I can do that, it’s going to open up doors for a lot of people. It’ll be like the twin-tip ski.”

For now, though, he’ll share his story on the big screen, inspiring others who seek the freedom chair.

“We all face these things and we can all overcome them,” Dueck said. “This film is the product of a couple of things; the love and support of my wife as she encourages me to live my dreams and the vision of Mike Douglas of Switchback Entertainment. In my opinion he’s done a phenomenal job of telling my story.”

“The Freedom Chair,” a film by SalomonFreeskiTV, will screen during Friday’s evening program. To learn more about Josh Dueck visit joshdueck.com.