March 23, 2013

Skiing in Maine: High Fives for a friend in need to the injured skier

By Josh Christie

In my decades as a skier, something that's always impressed me is the abundance of nonprofit organizations devoted to the sport. They're an important part of the industry, with missions ranging from getting kids into the sport, to increasing availability and access, to preserving our rich heritage as skiers and snowboarders. Why, just here in Maine, Winterkids, Ski Maine and the Ski Museum of Maine fill those roles admirably.

Based beyond the borders of our state, there's a nonprofit with the laudable goal of helping athletes who have suffered a life-altering injury while skiing or snowboarding: The High Fives Foundation. Recently I had the privilege of chatting with the organization's president and vice president, Roy Tuscany and Adam Baillargeon.

Though they run an organization based on the West Coast, both Baillargeon and Tuscany had deep roots here on the opposite side.

A Saco native, Baillargeon spent his formative years skiing at Sugarloaf and Sunday River. A bout with Synovia cell sarcoma -- a particularly nasty form of cancer -- at age 17 nearly cost him his life but also put him on a path that eventually led to the High Fives Foundation.

Adam went on to study in the (sadly, now-defunct) Ski Industries program at the University of Maine at Farmington and then to the media studies program at USM. After stints working for the Portland-based N'East Magazine and as marketing coordinator at Sugarloaf, Adam ventured west to Squaw Valley. It's a mountain he'd fallen in love with years earlier; he'd visited as a Make-A-Wish recipient after recovering from cancer.

Tuscany, a born-and-bred Vermonter, grew up skiing just west of us over at Mad River Glen and Sugarbush. A promising young talent, Tuscany headed to California after graduating from Vermont to coach freestyle skiing and pursue a career as a pro skier. Tragically, Roy overshot a jump at Mammoth Mountain in 2006 and broke his back. While he worked through a long rehabilitation (though he can walk now, Tuscany's doctors originally suggested he'd never walk again), his co-workers at Sugar Bowl Academy set up a recovery fund, which raised $85,000 to cover Roy's recovery.

Inspired by the outpouring of support, Tuscany launched the High Fives Foundation in 2009. Based in Truckee, Calif., the nonprofit is "dedicated to raising money and awareness for athletes who have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community." Baillargeon joined the foundation that year, inspired by the mission and the kindred spirit of Tuscany -- after all, he had also experienced the devastation of a life-threatening injury. Adam came on board as marketing manager and is the nonprofit's vice president.

The High Fives Foundation has three primary programs: the Winter Empowerment Fund, the CR Johnson Healing Center, and the B.A.S.I.C.S. (or Being Aware Safe In Crazy Situations) program.

The bulk of the nonprofit's budget goes to the Winter Empowerment fund, which provides financial support (via grants) for alternative healing and therapies, as well as rehabilitative and adaptive equipment. In its short life, the organization already has helped 40 athletes recover from debilitating injuries. This small safety net for the snowsports industry can be positively life-changing for athletes, many of whom don't have the resources to finance a recovery.

The 2,500-square-foot CR Johnson Healing Center, also located in Truckee, is a natural partner to the fund. The center offers free or discounted treatment and alternative therapies (including massage and acupuncture) for injured athletes. The center is named for Charles Russell Johnson, a storied skier who survived a life-threatening brain injury and fought his way back to pro skiing.

While the first two programs deal with recovery, B.A.S.I.C.S. sets its aim on prevention. The video series is designed to promote fundamentals of safety and awareness to athletes, hopefully stopping these life-altering injuries before they occur.

Baillargeon and Tuscany were back on the East Coast for the FAT Ski-A-Thon, a fundraiser at Sugarbush for High Fives' three program services. They also skied with Vermonter Mark Flounlacker (the 40th athlete to receive a Winter Empowerment grant) and gave presentations at a few Maine schools. While the bulk of the High Fives Foundations' events and athletes have been out west, both New Englanders would like to expand the nonprofit's footprint in the Northeast.

Though skier and snowboarder injuries are rare (about two injuries per 1,000 skier visits, on average), there's no question that they can be both life-threatening and life-changing. A group like the High Fives Foundation can make the road to recovery a bit more bearable.

You can visit HighFivesFoundation.org for more information, to make a donation or to otherwise get involved. 

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com

 

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