Alpine skier Josh Dueck pushed the limits of sport long before he became a para-athlete.
He was a freestyle skiing coach when he overshot the landing of a demonstration jump on March 8, 2004, and fell 30 metres. He broke his neck and back, and severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Now, as one of Canada’s top sit-skiers, he has won two Paralympic silver medals, three World Cup races and is a two-time X Games medallist.
He is also the first sit-skier to complete a backflip on snow, a stunt that landed him a guest appearance on the Ellen talk show.
In short: Josh Dueck doesn’t hold back. And he’s not expected to hold back when he races in the men’s super combined sitting event on Tuesday at the Sochi Paralympics, either.
“Skiing is so valuable to me is because it’s a creative outlet,” said Dueck. “I get to be the person that I’m meant to be on the hill.
“You know some people are artists some people are musicians or doctors or whatever it is that allows their creative energy to come out and let their spirit come to life. For me, that’s skiing.”
Like many professional skiers, progression of sport is important to Dueck, and seeing the positive results of hard work and dedication helps to keep his drive alive. When he began his sit-ski career in 2006, each race only had a handful of athletes. Now he faces 15 to 20 athletes at every race.
“The field is getting stronger, and the margin between the athletes is getting tighter and tighter every year,” he told CBC Sports. “It’s exciting to see the growth and it’s becoming more and more challenging to be successful.”
On Saturday, Dueck pushed the limits to win silver in the men’s downhill sitting event, finishing just 0.39 behind the winner, Akira Kano of Japan.
"I took some chances trying to find the fastest line down the hill,” he said after that race. “I am thrilled. Second was awesome.”
Dueck pushed hard again on Sunday in the men’s super-G, but this time with a heartbreaking result. He was tied with Kano at the last interval of the course and was all but assured of a medal when he crashed only a few gates from the finish line, and didn’t finish the race.
Celebrating fellow skiers
But his lack of a medal didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for teammate Caleb Brousseau, who won bronze in the event. If anything, Dueck is a cheerleader for all who compete, impaired and able-bodied alike.
“It’s very exciting to see how successful freestyle skiing has become,” he said. “I followed all of the athletes in Canada since they were younger. I was at the level where I was skiing on par with them and now to watch them grow and become world champions and Olympic champions and continue to evolve the sport is awesome.
“Just talking about it right now I’m smiling big time. I’m so excited to see Canada continue through to Sochi and then beyond.”
The super-G portion of the men's super combined begins at about 4 a.m. ET on Tuesday, while the slalom portion begins at about 9:35 a.m ET. (Both portions will be streamed live at cbc.ca/paralympics.)