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Extreme is not worth it
By Tim Hauserman
In the April issue of Adventure Sports Journal, I wrote “The Dying Game,” a look at an effort underway in the Lake Tahoe region to reduce the number of people dying and getting severely injured while doing adventure sports. It was a look at the cultural pressure that athletes feel to jump further and fly higher, and the lack of understanding of the increased risks they are taking. One response has been the Go Bigger Coalition, described in the article, which is focused on getting adventurers, especially the younger ones, to make good decisions so they are able to become the true heroes: those who are still alive to climb that mountain in their 70s.
The response to the article was electric. It touched a nerve, and now ASJ has decided that I should produce a regular column on the topic, profiling the efforts of many to balance the desire for joy and adventure, with risk. This first edition, I will profile another Tahoe area organization working to deal with the issue, the High Fives Foundation.
High Fives began in the head of Roy Tuscany as he was recovering from a severe injury to his spine. In 2006 Tuscany was a pro skier, who while trying to land a 100-foot jump, went 130 feet instead and was initially paralyzed from the waist down. He had a challenging two years of recovery and now he walks haltingly.
“I had a great network of friends helping me to recover. After two years, saying thank you wasn’t enough, I had to pay it forward,” said Tuscany. So he started the High Fives Foundation in Truckee in 2009 to help others and to literally high five them through the recovery process.
“We have a vision to be the safety net of the mountain sports action community,” said Tuscany. “We are here to help an athlete after they crash.”
They provide resources and inspiration to bring those with life altering injuries either back to their sport or at least to a productive and happy life. They do it through physical therapy, massage therapy, training programs, and by providing financial assistance to cover what is not covered by insurance, which for many athletes can be a huge sum of money. Money is provided to athletes through a grant system. Athletes fill out an application and request funding. When accepted they work with a recovery plan, with the money going directly to pay for the individuals and organizations which provide assistance. “When insurance says no, we say yes,” said Tuscany. “We support the part you can’t cover.”
According to High Fives, they have helped 91 athletes recover or return to their sport since 2009. The program has been a great success in helping those who are injured live better lives. Unfortunately though, people are still crashing, getting injured, and dying. While programs to assist recovery are great, prevention is better. Like the Go Bigger Coalition, High Fives is also working to prevent injuries.
Tuscany believes that part of the increase in injuries is caused simply by the increase in the number of people participating in action sports, making the odds higher that injuries will occur. But he also feels that, “There is a big gap between technology and what people can do.” In other words, gear technology has advanced quicker then the skill level of athletes, allowing them to do things that they have not yet developed the skill to be able to do successfully. The average skier heading down a mountain or mountain biker heading down a hill goes a lot faster then they used to because of the great advancements in the equipment.
Tuscany believes to catch up with the technology the focus needs to be on providing better training. “A big thing is to find really good coaches who are focusing on safety. They play a big role in people’s lives. In the proper thought process that an athlete needs to goes through, they need to know that they are not invincible.” They need to be aware that this is real life, it’s not a video game that you can just push restart and try again if you fail, because you might not be around to push the button.
Tuscany would like to see more training facilities like Woodward Tahoe, which allows athletes to progress and increase their abilities in a safe manner, but there are only four Woodwards in the United States.
After a slew of recent deaths, High Fives instituted a program called BASICS – Be Aware Safe in Critical Situations.They have produced one film each year for the past five years and taken them on a national tour to mountain communities to encourage safe practices. The focus is on 5th through 10th grade students, “the age when you start getting smarter than your parents,” he said.
The films were:
Five Critical Mistakes
Helmets are Cool
Know Your Park
There have been a total of 194 presentations, and over 145,000 online views of the films. The films interview a number of famous skiers, ski patrol members and safety experts on how to enjoy the mountains while staying safe.
A concern expressed by some parents who have watched the videos is that while the spokespeople are saying all the right things about safety, the images behind them are showing athletes that are considered heroes involved in very dangerous activities that could kill people. I asked Tuscany about this and he said this was all part of the plan. The goal is to make children believe they are watching a really cool ski or snowboard movie with famous athletes doing amazing things, when actually they are being taught the tips to keep them alive. “The kids stay engaged the whole time,” said Tuscany.
While there is no debate about the positive intentions of the various groups of people trying to improve safety in the adventure sports community, there is a debate about what is the best approach. Is it possible with proper training and the right equipment to reduce injuries? Or does the focus need to be on developing the decision-making skills which will sometimes lead the athlete to abandon their plans? Should athletic heroes (who kids look up to) sell the concept of safety, or should kids learn to be their own heroes? It’s a discussion to be continued.
For information on High Fives or to get more information on the BASICS program go to highfivesfoundation.org