The lead-up to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games was full of bumps and bruises for Para alpine skier Josh Dueck.
He hadn’t performed up to his expectations in competition, he dealt with injury and equipment challenges, and there was plenty of uncertainty within the Games landscape. But thanks to some internal reflection at the World Cup finals ahead of the Games, he shifted his mindset to that of hope and gratitude.
And come March 2014 – the 10-year anniversary of his accident that would ultimately set him on his Paralympic journey – he was ready.
“The road to Sochi was filled with trials and tribulations,” said Dueck, born in Kimberley, B.C. and now living in Vernon, B.C. “There wasn’t a lot of expectations early on and it turned out that thanks to good guidance from coaches and support of my friends and family, my engine was firing on all cylinders heading into Sochi.”
His first race of the Games was the downhill.
“Downhill is a personal favourite; I’ve always found that the faster you’re moving through time and space, the slower things seem to process in my brain, so it’s a bit of a moving meditation,” he said. “Second, I missed my target in Vancouver [at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games], I placed fifth, and so for me I was certainly striving for a little bit more.”
The course was challenging and intimidating, and the conditions made things extremely tough. Some skiers did not make it through the entire track. Dueck visualized the race and just hoped to make it down the hill safely.
When he crossed the finish line, his time was at the top of the leaderboard. But in the end, Japanese skier Akira Kano pushed him to the silver medal position.
“Right away I realized, I really do want to win,” said Dueck of the feeling when he dropped to second. “That rekindled something inside of me that I didn’t even know existed, and that was building this really cool energy and momentum for the balance of the Games where I had an opportunity to compete in super-G and super combined.”
In the super-G, Dueck did not finish, crashing into the fences. But he was able to move on from that event, let it go, and think of his next race. And it would not be long for his golden moment to arrive.
“The day of the super combined was a day I’m never going to forget. It started off with when I woke up in the morning, I was rehearsing the national anthem in my sleep and then as soon as I woke up.”
Alongside his inner confidence, Dueck says he was able to stay present, channeling the energy of the crowd and the support of family and friends back home. He looked at a picture of his new daughter Nova, born six month prior, and was ready for his moment and to put down “the best run of the day”.
“I delivered well on a plan that the coaches helped me to achieve and together we came out champions, which was awesome. I had achieved a goal that had been set a long, long time ago to do my best when it mattered most and to represent my country with pride and I was able to do that.”
Now a Paralympic champion, with a gold and silver to his name, his Sochi 2014 experience was capped off with being named Canada’s Closing Ceremony flag bearer.
“Being named flag bearer was everything. You’re given an opportunity to hold the flag for your country and in your heart, you know you wouldn’t be where you are if you didn’t live in such a great country. I’m forever grateful for the privilege of being a Canadian and growing up where and how I did which was in a small mountain town in British Columbia.”
When he looks back on the Games, he thinks of the leadership of the entire team to provide the athletes the best environment in which to succeed.
“The sense of calm and stability that were we afforded, from the chef de mission down to the coaching staff and every person in between, created a sense of purpose, a sense of opportunity and rather than looking at the troubles around us, we were able to maintain that focus on what we were there to achieve, which for me was celebrating humanity through sport.”
That leadership is something he hopes to bring into the Beijing 2022 Games, where seven years after becoming Paralympic champion, the 40-year-old will now play the role of chef de mission. His advice to the athletes less than 100 days from the Games includes “stay the course and remember why it is they’re doing what they’re doing and appreciate there is a higher value to sport than just face value.”
“We as athletes have this great opportunity to elevate those around us, we have an opportunity to motivate all Canadians and people around the world during a trying time. Now more than ever I think sport can play a part in uniting people.”
This year, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Pfizer Canada are celebrating 25 years of supporting and promoting the Paralympic Movement together. Throughout 2021, we will look back on special sporting moments and milestones from each year of the partnership.
Click here to read each moment so far.