When it comes to life, I’m no expert. In fact, I’m 27; married (which is awesome), no job, no house, and I live with my in-laws. I’m an educated person. I have a diploma in civil engineering, 3 years of experience in a fast paced engineering environment and I still can’t land a job. I lack the ability to sell myself to a company. The places I want to work don’t want me and the places I don’t want to work don’t want me. Talk about a good way to slip slowly into madness.
It all started about a decade ago in a town called Red Lake. I was a 17-year-old kid with no life experience. I worked for my dad doing construction and renovations and that was going really well. I had responsibility at work, I got to be outside all day, and on the right job we’d have our lunch by the lake. Life was good, but I had big goals in a big world. I wanted to be a biker. No, I didn’t want to wear spandex and pedal my butt off. I didn’t want to wear leather and grow a huge beard. I wanted to throw on a helmet, maybe some knee pads and some gloves, jump on my bike and throw myself off jumps and cliffs. I wanted to ride epic trails that seemed to go on forever and just when you think you’re close to the bottom you stop and find out you’re only half way there. Now this was 2006-07. The bike industry had stepped away from events like Red Bull Rampage and focused on slopestyle events. This posed a problem for me. I wanted to be a big mountain rider, but in a time when the entire industry was focused on a defined course and what tricks you could do, a big mountain rider was not going to get his name out there. So in 2006 I entered to get a spot in the Crankworx lottery for slopestyle. I got a call, but because I had one day to travel from the metropolis that is Red Lake, I wasn’t able to make it to Whistler in time.
That summer I saw some of the most progress in my riding. I was building bigger and bigger stuff. Going bigger than ever and looking for more all the time. That year I grew so much and was becoming the rider I wanted to be. I even started getting respect from people in high school who didn’t really know much about me. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I’d call them out on things too. Every rider has at least once in their life had someone say “I’d hit that”, but they shut up pretty quick when you hand them your bike and helmet. Late 2006, bike season was over and the snow had begun to come down, the lake was freezing and I didn’t have very much going on other than school so it was time to get the snowboard out. That winter ended up being my best season of riding my board. I was so confident in my abilities and was doing bigger things all the time. It was like 06 was my year. I was doing bomb drops from buildings, hitting jumps that one year earlier I would have never thought of doing and doing it in style, and sliding actual hand rails. There was a small group of us that just shred all winter long. We’d have the snowboards in the back of my Volvo, ready for a short after school sunset shred (the sun went down at 4:30pm). That winter was the first time I didn’t want to bring out the gt snow racer, which in previous years was the main source of entertainment.
Now being a typical Canadian, there was a third form of fun I had, hockey. That was another thing that was always in the back of the car. I’d have all my friends’ skates, sticks, and about a dozen pucks ready to go at any time. Usually after a day of riding snowboards and the sun was gone, the lights at the outdoor rink would turn on and we’d go and play a few pick-up games and go home. Our group was super tight. There was Greg, Danny, Tyler, Lyndsey and Me. We were pretty much inseparable. Early 07, the snow was starting to melt and it was time to start planning my bike season. This meant I would be hanging out with Greg, Danny, Cody, Jon, Jamie, and Caleb a lot more. This also meant getting the bikes ready for the season. Bring on the start of the craziest year of my life.
In March 07 I was working on a rim and I had some trouble with it. The tool I was using got stuck, I torqued it a little more and a small piece of aluminum broke off and hit me in the eye. It must have been travelling really quick because it went into my eyeball and was lodged there for a week. The doctors didn’t take me seriously when I said it went inside my eye and just tried flushing it twice. I had an x-ray and sure enough, there was a shiny spot inside the right eye, just to the left of the iris and pupil. This would be my first big medical event of the year. The day we found out how bad it was we were heading down the highway to Winnipeg to get surgery. I was already losing sight in my eye so it was an emergency.
This surgery restored my vision to almost perfect. In fact, colours are more vibrant in my right eye now. The next five weeks of my life were pretty boring. After eye surgery, you aren’t allowed to lift, run, or do anything fun because you could rupture your eye and lose it. So I went to school, watched my gym class have fun, did all the learning I could do with an eye patch and go home. I wasn’t even allowed to drive the quad to go pick up my friend after their co-op. Life was boring. In early May I was able to start doing stuff and I just went for it. I had five weeks of pent up energy. I managed to go from an average gym student to a performer and was able to get right back into the swing of things on bikes. On one occasion I miscalculated, though. I ended up puncturing my arm on a rock and had to go in for stitches and pretty much felt that injury for the rest of the year.
It was time to enter for a place in Crankworx again. I submitted my form for the lottery and I was selected as one of the 100 to be in qualifying. It was a celebration in the Harder house that day. I was going to be riding the biggest event in the world and this was my shot. Now finding out I got in was both good and bad. I had a goal, but I didn’t want to get hurt before so I took the rest of the summer a little easier than I normally would have. I wasn’t as confident in the air, I was riding different equipment on my bike so the geometry was a little weird, and I wasn’t pushing my limits. It came time to go to Whistler. My parents and I drove to Sicamous, BC and spent a few days at my sister's place. This was my first real chance to ride some BC trails. There was one north of town that was really fun and gave me a chance to push myself. It came time to go to Whistler. Thinking only positive things about this trip, I was beyond excited. When we got to town, we checked into the hotel and I immediately went to check out the course and get my lift passes. Because I was an athlete, I got a week of lift passes for $35! The next day I got up and got first chair. I spent the whole day riding the bike park. It was my first time there and it was amazing.
The next day was practice. I met some of the biggest stars during practice. I hung out with Lance McDermot, Andreu Lacondeguy, Tyler McCaul and Cam McCaul. I practiced all morning and eventually it was contest time. Before my qualifying heat I went to my dad, I told him that I wasn’t feeling right. My gut was telling me to hold off on riding and we eventually agreed that I should just go have fun and not worry about my result. So up the mountain I went. It finally came time for my heat shortly after 1pm. I was nervous to say the least. I was about to ride in front of thousands of people and the entire bike industry. On July 26, 2007, at approximately 2:30pm I dropped in for my run. I went off the starting drop like usual. Pretty tech little drop and was rolling towards the road gap. I went off the road gap and did what would have been the best table of my life. Like, that thing was flat. Next up was the big double… after the table, I was lined up for a jump that I had never hit and didn’t have the time to stop so I was committed to it. I remember right before I left the lip that I wasn’t going the right speed so I bailed and was aiming to slide down the landing, only instead of a long and low bail, I got LAUNCHED.
All of a sudden I was 30+ feet in the air and not the 5-10 I was expecting. Instead of sliding down the landing I was thinking about what part of me to land on. It felt like I was up there for minutes with the volume of thoughts running through my head. You know how they say time slows down. It actually does. It’s like the gravity of the situation acts like a black hole. After all, time is relevant. As I was flying I was thinking, ‘If I land on my feet, I’d break both my legs’, and ‘my best bet is to try and slide out like my original plan’. I must have gone back and forth on this two or three times before I made my decision.
When my butt hit the ground I uttered on word on impact, “shit,” and rolled down the landing. Something felt off about this tumble though. It felt like my upper half and my lower half weren’t connected. When I stopped I tried to get up because I felt ok, but I wasn’t. I folded at my belly button. The emergency crew was there in seconds and were doing assessments. “Move your hands, move your arms, wiggle your toes….” My toes didn’t wiggle. I was paralyzed from the waist down. Thankfully there were people everywhere so I had a hand to hold. My dad was volunteering that day on the hill and had a radio so I was able to have him right there in under two minutes. When he got there we prayed and prayed that this would work out. Thankfully I was aware of everything and not totally freaking out because my bag was at the top of the hill with my ID and camera and everything. I was able to tell somebody to get my bag. This was the start of a long road. I spent a few hours in the Whistler clinic and was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital where I spent the next three weeks of my life. The first few days were just a blur. I was put in a coma so I wouldn't move around and only briefly woke up for things like MRI and x-rays. I woke up because the pain was so intense that I could tell you if they rolled me over a dime. Then it came time for surgery. I had a quick prayer with my Dad and Adrian (Brother-in-law). Then it was lights out. When I was under they cut open my left side, removed a rib and moved my lung so they could get to my spine. They removed all the pieces of my L1 Vertebrae. I am now the proud owner of a titanium vertebrae, one plate, and four screws.
After my operation I spent three weeks in Vancouver General Hospital. It was one of the most trying times of my entire life. The next few days were a blur. I had tubes out of every part of my body. There was a chest tube to help get air out of my chest cavity, a catheter which is as unpleasant as they say, an I.V. in my hand, and one in my neck. The one in my neck was my favorite one because it was hooked up to a machine that gave me a shot of morphine every 8 minutes if I wanted. Pain relief was just the press of a button away, I named it the "Happy Button" while I was there.
After a few days something amazing happened. i was laying in my bed and I noticed something was different. My thighs were feeling normal. That's right FEELING! I was stoked. Within the week I was able to bring my knees up. It was incredible and a bit of a miracle. Unfortunately my feet weren't working and they still don't to this day.
My days consisted of getting up, going to a short physio session. That's where I learned to sit up and even transfer from my bed to my wheelchair. I remember sitting in the physio room, looking out at Vancouver thinking that this isn't how I wanted my first visit to the Van City to go. After my morning therapy session it was back to bed and my TV. I has speen network so I spent my free time trying to catch some motocross races. It was right at the start of Ryan Villapoto's pro career and he just kept winning.
After a few weeks in Vancouver they needed to give my bed to someone else so it was time to leave. I was sent to Winnipeg's Health Science Center to finish my rehabilitation and I was sent in style. I wasn't able to sit for more than 2 hours so a regular airline. The kind people at BC health wanted my bed so bad that they chartered a medical transport for me to get to Winnipeg. They got me a private plane. It was the most rockstar feeling moment of my life.
In a way it was fitting that I went to HSC because it's where I was born. I met my new physiotherapist and told her I was walking out of that place. She always seemed unsure of that and tried to keep me grounded. I kept to a routine, get up at 9, physio at 10, lunch at noon, physio at 2 and then cruise the halls of the hospital until I got tired or bored. I spent time talking to lots of old people too. My ward was spinal injuries, amputees, and stroke patients. So there was a real mix of us.
On November 16, 2007 I walked out of the hospital.
This road has lead me through some of the deepest valleys of my life. From being told that I would never walk again and constantly telling my physiotherapist I was walking out of the hospital to actually doing it was amazing. It helped that I had a walker and still didn't have the money I needed for a wheelchair. Believe me, those are more expensive that you can ever imagine.
After leaving the hospital I went to a very dark place. Going from active to stuck inside is worse than it sounds. I was questioning my own value and debating if it was worth it to keep going. Then I found a group of friends to hang out with all the time and slowly worked myself off the painkillers, because those things are almost as addictive as riding. I spent that winter riding my quad around town and going ice fishing with my friends. The next summer we went out and built a trail for them to ride. I was the creative mind behind the whole project and loved just being out, talking about biking and lines again. Almost a year after I got hurt I rode my bike and bombed down an old logging cut, I even did a little manual at the end. It was a huge victory, but unfortunately I lost the video of it.
The next summer I went with my parents to visit some family in Quesnel, BC, and had my dad chase me with the truck down a massive hill near my uncle's place, I think I hit close to 50km/h which is pretty good for somebody whose legs don't work all that well. And last year, just before I got married I went riding for a morning with one of my roommates. I was living in Lethbridge, AB, at the time. I hiked and rode down twice. It doesn't sound like much, but it's nine years later and I haven't fully recovered. I've made it a crazy ride, and I've made it my goal to do everything that somebody in my condition wouldn't normally do. I aim to keep doing that for as long as my body will let me. Lack of newer equipment has slowed me down a little bit and lately a lack of finances.
In spring 2015, I met my wife. We've been married for seven months, and plan on a long time together. I was one of the thousands laid off in the fall of 2015 and haven't been able to land another job yet. I have a diploma in Civil Engineering Technology and have worked in the mining industry too. As of right now, my wife Sarah and I are living at her parents in Fanny Bay, BC, on Vancouver Island and are job hunting all over the province. Our goals in the next few years are the basics: get a place to call our own and start a family, and I'm going to do my best make mountain bikes a family tradition.
Cheers and ride safe everyone!