Things I’ve Learned: Josh Dueck

Comments by Shay Williams/

Josh Dueck, Professional sit skier, Paralympian medalist, X Games medalist, all-around jet black stallion.

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Josh at Monashee Powder Cats, BC, in 2009. p: Shay Williams

I grew up in the Kootenays and learned how to ski in a little town called Kimberley.

Growing up in a mountain town in British Columbia made it pretty easy for me to want to get out and explore the mountains. It’s been said that "The Mountains shall bring peace to the people."

Kimberley was a hot bed for freestyle back in the day. Trennon Paynter and Jimmy Schiman led the charge and inspired generations of up and coming skiers to "be a scare and ski with air." From there, a couple of local hotdoggers, Dave Shipley and Kevin Dixon started the local Freestyle Club, affectionately known as the KFC.

I’ve never really been super competitive about skiing; going to freestyle contests back in the day was more about traveling to new places with my friends and having fun. So many fond memories of tripping around the country with the boys; from the all time jump lines down the rollers in Kimberley, to the rally sessions up and down the Fortress Mountain road in our shit-box cars. The list is long and the memories are deep.

What the ski world has brought into my life is immeasurable.

Breaking my back might have been one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done and yet such an incredibly powerful life lesson—an example of when one's ego overpowers intuition. It was a typical spring day with soft snow and inconsistent speed coming into the jump… I ended up coming in too fast and stuck to the idea of doing a lawn dart. Too much speed plus and forward rotation like that is a sure way to take it deep, and that’s what happened. I had a bad feeling coming into the jump that I was in for a bad ride; but I went for it anyhow. Oops!

Pretty much the first thing that came to mind when I regained consciousness was fuck, I can’t move. It was a combo of being super scared and embarrassed at the same time.

On the way to the hospital I was trying to stay calm even though I couldn’t feel my legs or move them at all. I kept saying to myself: One, everything happens for a reason. Two, nothing happens to a person in life that they’re not capable of dealing with. Three, everything in my life has prepared me for this moment. 

Just a few weeks prior to my accident I saw a kid my age in a wheelchair and figured if that happened to me that I’d rather be dead. But when it happened to me my outlook changed and I became incredibly grateful to still be alive and have the mobility that I had.

The idea of getting back to the mountains and being able to ride with my friends after my accident gave me hope and a belief that everything was going to be all right.

Progression is inevitable. In order to find our potential in sport and in life we need to push ourselves outside our comfort zone; that’s where the magic is. The challenge is how fast our sport is progressing that it can be hard for the youngsters to safely keep up. People need to find a way to challenge their limits in a safe environment and progress in small increments rather than in leaps and bounds.

I’m not sure people realize how difficult it is to find a good sit ski. Most sit skiers spend years trying to create a harmonious connection between themselves and their equipment. I dream of a day where all sit skiers have an opportunity to sit in a piece of equipment that allows them to creatively express themselves freely without their gear inhibiting them.

Damn near everything in my life has changed over the past decade. Obviously the physical changes have been huge and with that it’s certainly opened up my outlook towards spirituality and perception to what’s possible.

The one thing that’s stayed the same is my curiosity of movement; how I get down the mountain may be different but the idea is the same.

Being a skier has always been my dream, and for a long time it was to go to the Olympics as a mogul skier. When I learned of the sit ski and that it was a Paralympic sport I felt super lucky to have an opportunity to pursue my goal of representing Canada; I saw it as a second chance to realize a long-standing dream of mine.

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Competing on home soil at the Paralympics is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced. Once I made it to the start gate I realized it was not really about the competition or me at all; the greatest feeling was seeing my friends and family all together celebrating a journey that we we’re all a part of. I tapped into the energy of the crowd and let ‘er rip!  

Hitting the podium was a euphoric climax and the first time I’ve really openly celebrated like that before. It was a total sensory overload! [Dueck won a silver medal in 2010. —ed]

There’s no comparison between the Paralympics and the X Games; both are great in their own way. The variety of sports happening at X gives way to such openness and creativity to expand what’s possible. The Paralympics brought every Canadian together to celebrate a common goal and to be a part of that action was the highest of honors.

It’s pretty funny to hear that the other athletes at the X Games think that the sit skiers are the craziest ones playing on snow. It’s all relative.

I’m stunned every time I see how much each sport progresses every year and how hard all the other athletes are pushing themselves. The Mono Ski X is a good rush for sure but it’s really not that crazy; it’s a bit like a ski race blended with a Chinese downhill.

I’m always looking for new ways to improve my riding and find different ways to get down the hill. Every once and a while I hit it right in contest and it really validates all the work I put in behind the scenes… it feels good to celebrate those moments with a cheering crowd.

Going into the backcountry is definitely a step out of my comfort zone. It can be a real challenge getting around and recovering from failed efforts; but when you get it right and nail something you’ve been working on it’s the best feeling ever. It’s those moments when everything in the world falls silent and you simply become one with your surroundings.

The white room comes easy when you’re so low to the ground, it doesn’t take much for me to be entrenched with overhead blower. It’s amazing! 

I feel lucky to be able to call the ski community my family. The friends I’ve made over the years have lifted me to new heights and then encouraged me to jump off them afterwards. As much as I love to ski, I’m always down for a new adventure that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Next on the hit list is spending as much time surfing as possible. I see mountain biking on the horizon as well.

I think my greatest achievement is getting the raddest girl I’ve met to fall in love with me.

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Josh competing in Mono Skier X at Winter X Games 16. p: Eric Bakke_ESPN

I feel super lucky to do what I love to do and if that inspires others to do the same then I’d say that’s a pretty rad by-product.

Pretty much anyone who surpasses what’s thought to be impossible en route to fulfilling their dreams is an inspiration to me. The way Jimi Hendrix manipulated his guitar or how Candide Thovax so easily defies logic on his skis. I love how guys like Tony Hawk and Craig Kelly evolved their sports from nothing more than an idea and a dream.

The idea of doing a backflip was being tossed around right after my accident happened; it seemed like a fun goal to work towards. It’s taken me a long time to develop the skills to feel confident enough to bring it to snow. It was a pretty intense way for me to overcome some deep-rooted fears brought on by my accident.

It felt like the world stopped for a moment and everything went quiet while I was upside down… it was super slow motion. Not to be too cheesy but it was the first time that my sit ski and my disability completely disappeared and I was simply free to be a kid again.

Plus I’m pretty sure that it was better form than my best backflips before my accident.

The whole experience of going to The ELLEN Show was surreal and it happened so fast. They called me up a day the backflip video started going viral and I was in studio a few days after that. My first time meeting Ellen was when we filmed the interview and even though I was super nervous it felt like I was meeting an old friend.

Funny enough just a few months before this all went down I said to some friends that if I was to ever make it to any mainstream talk show that I wanted it to be The ELLEN Show.  I think she’s hilarious and did a really good job of showing how cool sit skiing can be.

Not sure what the future holds for me but I am stoked to keep pushing forward. I’d be pretty excited to spend more time in the backcountry exploring new terrain and maybe even getting myself ready for a mountaineering trip, Euro style. I still have a lot of fun ski racing, too, and Sochi seems like a cool place to visit one day.

The Canucks are a solid team, arguably one of the best in the league. There’s a few things they need to change before they have a chance at taking the Cup: toughening up for one and finding a keeper that likes to play under pressure.

Ten years from now I’d like to be doing lots of fun stuff everyday. I see myself being more involved working with kids; sharing the magic of movement through sport and adventure. Right now I’m learning from the pros at the HighFivesFoundation.org down in Cali and helping to develop a similar foundation in BC called LiveItLoveIt.org.

The greater the adversity one faces in life; the greater the opportunity is to grow and learn. When something bad happens there is a build up of energy and how you direct that energy is a choice you make.

We all face challenges in our lifetime: some big, some small. It’s important to take those challenges in stride and stay open to the lessons along the way. Life is short; enjoy the ride!


For more information on Dueck, visit his website, joshdueck.com, or follow him @justdueck.