The Province is featuring five athletes, one builder and one media member being inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame on May 31 at a reception at Parq Vancouver.
They join sports medicine’s Alex McKechnie, who revolutionized physiotherapy and has worked with the biggest names in sports; swimming’s Tom Johnson, who among other accomplishments was on 10 Olympics coaching staffs for Canada; the 1900-18 Rossland ladies ice hockey team, which was undefeated in organized play for 17 years; the 1991 national men’s rugby team, which reached the World Cup quarterfinals and included 23 players either born in B.C. or who played rugby in the province, as well as B.C.-born coach Ian Birtwell; and W.A.C. Bennett Award winner Alex Nelson, founding member and three-time president of the North American Indigenous Games Council, women’s rights crusader, and soccer coach for 42 years.
Today’s feature is on Josh Dueck
Life ever get you down? You need look no further than to Josh Dueck for inspiration.
He’ll tell you, breaking your back sucks. It’s what you do from there that defines you.
“The way I see it, there’s this massive vortex of energy that comes with acute transition and it can be directed in one of two ways,” the Paralympic gold and silver medallist said over the phone from his home in Vernon.
“You can get stuck in it or you can use it in a way that drives you forward.”
Today, the 37-year-old Dueck is a motivational speaker, paralyzed from the waist down.
But back in 2004 Dueck was coaching kids’ skiing and decided to show off a bit.
He went up the hill, came down faster than he’d expected, and had a split second in which, as he put it, his ego and intuition battled, intuition telling him to bail.
Ego won and he went ahead with his jump and front-flip.
“I didn’t want to look bad in front of the kids I was coaching,” he said.
Dueck, 23 at the time, overshot the landing hill, fell 100 vertical feet — like falling from the roof of a 10-storey building — and landed on his face. The fall broke his back, leaving him a T-11 paraplegic.
After he’d been airlifted to Vancouver, this girl he knew, Lacey — she was 18 — quit her job to be at his side in the hospital. Today, Lacey is Dueck’s wife.
“She literally stopped everything she was doing, bought a bus ticket with the last little bit of cash she had in her pocket and came to the hospital to see a friend,” Dueck said.
“We talked about that recently and she said she just knew in her heart she had to come see me … 14 years later, two beautiful kids and a bunch of great stories. Lacey has selflessly given so much.”
The couple’s daughter Nova is four-and-a-half years old, their son Hudson is one-and-a-half.
It took Dueck only nine months to be back on the slopes, in a sit-ski. It was 2005 and he made it his goal to represent Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics, where he would win silver in men’s slalom, sitting.
But after the Vancouver Paralympics, things didn’t go well.
“Suddenly, after 2010, I was devoid of goals,” he said.
He began drinking heavily, nearly pushing his wife out of his life.
“There was confusion and uncertainty,” Dueck said. “It blindsided me. I just did not see that void coming.
“It hit and it hit hard.”
So he set a new goal: To perform the first back flip on a sit-ski, which he nailed in the deep backcountry snow of Powder Mountain in 2012.
That got him 15 minutes on the Ellen Degeneres Show and led to Sochi, where he added Olympic gold in men’s super combined, sitting, and silver in men’s downhill, sitting, to his collection of medals from winning the 2009 world downhill sit-ski championship at Pyeongchang, 2011 X Games at Aspen and multiple Canadian championships.
Dueck at least knew to expect what he calls the “Paralympic hangover” after the 2014 Games.
“This time I knew it would be a challenge to not have sport as the principal focus in my life,” Dueck said.
He was 33. Lacey and he sold most of their belongings and rented out their house, bought an Airstream travel trailer and lived as nomads for a year, “just booting around,” letting all that had happened in the decade since he’d broken his back sink in.
“That was a pretty cool thing to do, but it still didn’t necessarily bridge the gap” between being a competitive skier and being retired.
Following a year of nomadic lifestyle, there followed a year of therapy, for his body and his mind, and then a year of applying his new life skills, Dueck said, to the point he felt comfortable and confident moving forward.
Today, he sounds at peace, being the best dad and husband he can be, the best member of the community he can be.
“Life is not without its challenges,” the Kimberley native said. “I’m living in a great community, have a great little home and family, but I suspect that sense of peace comes from my drive to be the coach and mentor that I once was was before my injury, helping and supporting those going through transition.”
Such as spinal-cord and other life-altering injuries, as well as athletes transitioning out of full-time sport.
He and Lacey are working with UBC-Okanagan on a business plan for healing centres, leading to brick-and-mortar centres where people can come and go. It’s the first time he and Lacey, once a competitive volleyball player, have worked together on a project.
“The basis of what we’re doing is empowerment through adventure, healing through community. That’s the model we’re developing.”
Induction into the Hall is a huge deal for Dueck, as the enormity of the honour has sunk in.
“It feels a bit like I’m getting my master’s degree in sport, a sense of validation and credibility.”
He’d like to mentor people such as Ryan Straschnitzki, the young hockey player who was paralyzed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that killed 16, much as he was mentored by Rick Hansen, Mike Colburn of the support group SOAR and sports psychologist Dr. John Coleman.
“Family and community means everything to me and that’s where my wife and I are orientating all of our energies. We feel it’s our time, our duty, to give back to sport the way it gave to us.
“You look back into the archives and I was a pretty goofy kid who wasn’t sure what to do with my life. Sport put me on the straight and narrow, gave me focus, it gave me the understanding of the value of hard work.
“And it gave me a lot of cool experiences along the way. I get to bring that back into my family, bring it back into my community.”