Action sports people are awe-inspiring almost by definition. How could you not be amazed by anyone doing Danny MacAskill-style stunts on a bike? Or landing a wingsuit without a parachute like Gary Connery?
But as insanely impressive as those at the top of their game are, there’s a group of riders who are, if anything, more inspiring: Those who’ve had to overcome disabilities to pursue the sports they love.
You may not have heard of any of these guys, but we defy you to read any of their stories or watch them in action and not feel stoked.
1) Josh Dueck – Skier
In the early 2000s Josh Dueck was attempting a flip on skis, a routine trick for him, when something went wrong. He landed badly, was rushed to hospital only to be told he’d damaged his spine and was paralysed from the waist down.
Far from putting him off the sport for life, the injury made Josh determined to get back on the proverbial horse and he soon mastered the art of sit-skiing – slaying the Whistler backcountry with ridiculous ease.
“He set his sights on completing the trick that had led to his injury”
He then set his sights on completing the trick that had led to his injury, becoming the first person ever to land a backflip on a sit-ski in 2012. Now that’s badass.
2) Evan Strong – Skater and Snowboarder
Ten days before his 18th birthday, Evan Strong was out riding his motorbike when a speeding car swerved into his lane, hitting him head on. The crash left his legs in tatters. His left leg would would have to be amputated below the knee.
A keen skateboarder and snowboarder before the crash, Evan was determined to get back on his board and worked tirelessly to do so.
All his efforts paid off last year when he took gold in the first ever adaptive snowboardcross event at the Sochi Paralympics, leading an American clean-sweep of the podium.
3) Stacey Kohut – Mountain Biker
Whistler local Stacey Kohut broke his back in 1992, but he’s never let that stand in his way.
As well as helping to pioneer the sport of Fourcross mountain-biking (one of the few disciplines where able-bodied and disabled athletes compete side-by-side) Stacey has won several Paralympic medals, including Gold at the 1994 games and three silvers in 1998.
4) Italo Romano – Skateboarder
As a kid, Brazilian Italo Romano and his friends used to get their kicks by riding between two moving trains – until the fateful day when Italo, 13-years-old at the time, slipped and fell between the wagons.
“He used to get his kicks by riding between two moving trains – until he slipped and fell between the wagons.”
Although he lost both his legs in the accident, Romano refused to let it dictate his lifestyle, or blunt his desire to be a daredevil, taking up skateboarding as a creative outlet.
He may not be able to ollie as high as his able-bodied counterparts, but Romano’s bag of tech tricks is second to none. He famously made the semis of the Tampa Pro in 2012.
5) Daniel Kish – Cyclist
By the time Daniel Kish was 13 months old he’d lost both eyes to a rare kind of cancer. Now 48, he has no recollection of ever not being blind.
But Daniel can ride a bike like a normal person, avoiding traffic and even popping wheelies. How does he do it? Well he clicks and like a bat, listens for the reflected sound bouncing back off objects around him to work out where they are.
This unusual form of echo-location has earned him nickname ‘Batman’, and it’s seriously impressive to see in action. You can read our full-length interview with Daniel for more details.
6) Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham – Wheelchair BMXer
Born with Spina Bifida, the young Aaron Fotheringham used to sit in his wheelchair and watch his brother ride BMX at the local skatepark. Then one day his bro encouraged him to drop in.
“I did it,” he later said, “and I was hooked.” Since then Aaron has gone on to make a name for himself as the world’s best freestyle wheelchair athlete, competing against BMXers in events, riding on the Nitro Circus tour and acting a stunt double for TV and movies.
In 2010 he landed the first ever double-backflip on a wheelchair. No wonder he’s earned himself the nickname “Wheelz”.
7) Barney Miller – Surfer
In 1998 Barney Miller was 19 and a promising young surfer, when he was involved in a horrific car accident. Air-lifted to hospital, the young Miller was pronounced dead on arrival.
After a huge fight Barney survived but was told he’d never walk – or surf – again. Yet Barney was determined not to be defined by his injury and worked with friends and surfboard manufacturers to build special boards he could lie down on.
“Air-lifted to hospital, the young surfer was pronounced dead on arrival.”
As a good friend of Mick Fanning (the three-time world champion who recently survived that shark attack) Barney has had plenty of support along the way, most recently with his trips to project walk, a rehab centre in the US where he’s been able to stand up for the first time.
Read our full-length interview with Barney Miller to hear his story in his own words.
8) Kurt Yaeger – BMXer
Way before Kurt Yaeger’s story was dramatically re-enacted for for Rudimental’s smash hit music video Waiting All Night (119 million Youtube views and counting) the American BMXer was inspiring kids with his performances at the X Games, reaching the position of number one adaptive rider in the world.
His 2006 accident isn’t quite as it was portrayed in the video – he was actually riding his motorbike at the time – but the story of his brutal injury and long recovery are all true to life.
It’s yet another incredible, and truly inspirational, tale of triumphing against all the odds.
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