Nestled away in our mountain home for the past week, I pondered over Sunday breakfast how to capture the feeling of this picturesque ski town. I could write about its beauty as we ski down the hills, the snow capped rocky mountains stretching before us. One could mention the tranquility of skiing the cross country trails, winds whispering through tall pines. Perhaps I could boast about the community spirit of the locals that proudly call Kimberley their home town, many with European roots. Where once, people came to work in the world’s then largest lead and zinc mine, young people now forego city life to raise their children here and enjoy nature’s playground. I had no shortage of inspiration but yet that morning, a chance encounter would uplift me in a way that not even mountain vistas can compete with. I would soon be holding an Olympic gold medal and meet the skier that won it; a local ‘boy’. I would know precisely what I wanted to write about.
Josh Dueck had returned to Kimberley this past weekend for the annual end of ski season festivities. Not surprisingly, he had been celebrated at the ski hill for his silver and gold medal wins in Sochi. That morning as we strolled through the town and into the charming store of Velvet and Ginjer, we had the privilege of meeting the Paralympian. From his wheelchair, with his young wife at his side and his baby girl resting on his lap, Josh conversed with people in the store. His daughter laid peacefully on daddy’s lap and I recalled reading that a picture of her had been tucked away, close to his heart when he competed for his country.
In 2004, Dueck had gone for a front-flip off of a jump but overshot it and fell nearly one hundred vertical feet, severing his spinal cord on impact as well as breaking his neck. The injury left him a paraplegic. He was told he’d have to ‘rock the world’ in a sit-ski and he’s done just that. In 2012, he received international acclaim when he became the first sit-skier to complete a backflip. He’s also the proud, but humble winner of three Olympic medals having also won in Vancouver.
Not wanting to disturb the Olympian, I walked past and offered a polite ‘congratulations’. Minutes later, Josh and his wife would not only chat with us but insist that we hold his gold medal. It was heavy and shiny, and the realization of what it meant brought tears to my eyes. Simply, it was an honour.
Josh conveyed to us how emotional it had been to receive his medals on the podium in Sochi. To hear the national anthem play against the backdrop of the Canadian flag. To proudly represent his country. His lovely wife Lacey, insisted we take numerous photographs. Their openness and generosity can be summed up by Lacey’s words “This medal isn’t just Josh’s or ours, it’s for everyone!”
I was reminded of another inspiring man I met recently at my gym. As we chatted, he looked up at me from his wheelchair and said “MS put me in this chair twenty-five years ago and a stroke made sure I’d never get out of it, but life is really good.”
To not only accept but to move forward from positions such as these is food for thought for us all. Besides being an Olympian, Josh works with a foundation called Live it! Love it! It provides outdoor adaptive adventure opportunities for people with disabilities, with the mission of making it accessible and affordable for all. It’s a humble reminder to endeavour to make a difference in other people’s lives; as insignificant as each action might seem, it’s important. It’s also a note to ourselves to appreciate life and to not take it for granted.
Meeting this typical ‘nice Canadian hometown boy’ was an unexpected pleasure for all of us that morning. Beyond the excitement and the accolades, we’re reminded that it’s all about people. It’s always an honour to meet an exceptional individual; someone like Josh.
“What’s your next challenge?”, my husband asked Josh as we were about to leave. Motioning over to his tiny baby, he confirmed what we had already guessed. That little girl is now foremost on his mind. He gave his heart and soul to compete for his country, but his family is the best prize any local hero could ask for!