SPORTS

Paralympic champion, historic back flipper Josh Dueck retires from competition

11/13/2014 11:39 EST | Updated 01/13/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Blowing the doors off perceptions of the disabled with his big-air back flip and the development of a fast and functional sit-ski are what Josh Dueck hopes his legacy will be.

The 33-year-old skier from Kimberley, B.C., announced his retirement from racing Thursday. Dueck won three Paralympic medals, including gold earlier this year in Sochi, Russia.

The man with the word "freedom" tattooed across his stomach was Canada's flagbearer at the closing ceremonies.

Paralyzed from the waist down in a ski crash at age 23, Dueck became the first person to perform a back flip on a sit-ski Feb. 3, 2012. That feat pushed the envelope in snow sport.

He was a guest on the "The Ellen DeGeneres Show". National Geographic named him one of the publication's Adventurers of the Year in 2013. The YouTube documentary of his flight in Whistler, B.C., has been viewed 880,000 times.

"The back flip created a huge buzz about our sport," Dueck said from Calgary during a conference call.

"Part of the legacy that I'd like to leave behind and still contribute in some way is creating global visibility as to what we're doing as a sport, what we're doing as athletes, what we're capable of and that there's value in it."

Dueck won Paralympic gold in super-combined — the combined times of a super-G and slalom race — in Sochi. He took silver in the downhill and also won a silver medal in 2010 in Whistler.

He was one of the athletes involved in what was then a secret project to revolutionize the sit-ski prior to 2010, and give the Canadian Para-Alpine team an advantage at the 2010 Winter Games.

"I've worked very closely with Alpine Canada and Own The Podium on developing a type of sit-ski that is competitive at a high-performance level, but also really good for introducing people (to it)," Dueck explained.

"It's got the adjustability for it so people can learn easily and safely. That's something I didn't have when I started.

"Part of my dream for a legacy is that people can just get into a sit-ski and go for a ride. You don't need to have a disability. You're just participating in a different style of sliding down the mountain."

Dueck was a freestyle coach performing a demonstration jump a decade ago when he landed on his chest and broke his back. He returned to the slopes to re-learn the sport on a monoski, which basically is a small chair on a single ski.

He won a world championship in 2009 and claimed X-Games gold in 2011. Now living in Vernon, B.C., with his wife Lacey and young daughter Nova, Dueck struggled mightily with his decision to retire.

The 2015 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships will be held almost in his own backyard Feb. 24 to March 4 in Panorama, B.C.

"It breaks my heart. I really want to be in Panorama," Dueck said. "Part of me (thinks) I could cheat and not do half the training and probably still show up and do all right because I know the hill. But that's not what I want.

"That's not safe, that's not smart and that's not good leadership for the rest of the athletes on the team. They deserve more than what I was willing to give."

After spending a month camping with his family on Vancouver Island during the summer, Dueck didn't want to continue the athlete's nomadic lifestyle.

"I started to reconnect with Lacey and our daughter in a way that I haven't in a very long time," he explained. "I love skiing, but I love what I have at home right now. I'm not going to get these moments back. My daughter took her first steps a few days ago.

"Although it made me just a little bit jealous, it melted my heart."

Dueck intends to be in Panorama in some capacity, but not as a competitor. He will continue to work as a mentor and consultant in the sport. He expressed interest in eventually coaching Para-Alpine athletes.

The Canadian team's athletic director wants to keep Dueck in the fold.

"We have some plans which I wouldn't say we've finalized," Brianne Law said. "We want to capitalize on his retirement and his availability of some new time in other ways, to really use him to help ramp up the excitement about world championships."

Dueck is retiring at the top of his game, which feels bittersweet.

"It's kind of a little bit like 'Seinfeld.' I maybe have a few good seasons left in me, but it's also really nice to conclude my career on a positive note," he said. "Now is a great time to do that."

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