April 24, 2008
The hitch in Roy Tuscanys giddy-up does little to illustrate his bodys battered past. Nor does his contagious, zest-for-life attitude.Despite the eight screws, two plates and two 9 1/2-inch rods stabilizing his spine, the 26-year-old Truckee skier cant seem to wipe the infectious smile from his face. He doesnt try. Even after three surgeries and 23 months of painful rehabilitation following a 2006 ski accident that left him paralyzed from the belly button down.I think it actually helped Roy out in a lot of ways, said KC Wry, Tuscanys longtime friend and roommate. It definitely made him more passionate about skiing and about life in general. Its amazing how hes been able to stay positive through the whole thing.Tuscanys all about positive vibes, really. And skiing. For him, the two are closely linked. So its with much pride that he spearheaded the High Five 540 Contest, which is set to go down in Sugar Bowls Switching Yard Terrain Park on Saturday.Its going to be a celebration of skiing and a celebration of the positivity that can come out of skiing, the former Sugar Bowl Freeride Team coach said, smiling at the thought.The High Five part of the contest title is more than just a clever name. It holds special meaning for Tuscany and his crew.I would high five all my physical therapists and friends (during rehabilitation), and then it kind of just turned into who I am now, Tuscany explained. I just love seeing my friends again because I almost lost that opportunity. And it gets a great point across. Its a train of positivity between two people. You get their positivity, and they get yours back.Since that fateful spring day in 2006, the Vermont native has worked tirelessly to get back on his feet, and back on skis. After steadily chipping away at his goal for nearly two years, hes accomplished both.
Once a pro-level freeskier with a dozen sponsors, Tuscany went from the top of his game to near death in one miscalculated launch in the Mammoth Mountain terrain park.The day was April 29. Tuscany, who was skiing solo on a three-week trip with his Sugar Bowl Freeride Team, charged a 70-foot step-up table. Soon after takeoff, he realized he had carried too much speed.Tuscany overshot the landing by 21 feet, soaring 121 feet from the lip of the jump before crashing into the flats from 30 feet in the air.I closed my eyes to tell myself, You dont want to see this, Tuscany recalled. Then the aftermath.It felt like I went through my body, like my legs went through my body if that makes sense, Tuscany said. The pain is something that I cant explain to anyone. I opened my eyes, saw blood and instantly almost went into shock because of the amount of pain I was feeling. The blood was from a severed artery in his thumb.Though he was writhing in pain and covered in blood, Tuscany had enough wits about him to reach into his pocket and grab his cell phone. He called Jim Hudson, his surrogate father and director of development of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team. Hudson, who also was skiing on the mountain, relayed the message to Tuscanys then-girlfriend Ashley Carter and friend Libby Webster. Carter and Webster took action, and they soon found Tuscany in a heap, unable to move his lower extremities.It was really scary, Carter said, adding that the initial concern was the blood, which also was coming from a cut on Tuscanys face. I think everyone was in shock. I certainly was. I never expected to see someone in that situation. I was almost just going on auto pilot.Tuscany explained what was going through his mind.There were so many thoughts, it was kind of like a computer overload, like they canceled each other out, he said. It was such an overload of emotions, my mind kind of shut down.
Mammoth Ski Patrol rushed Tuscany to the bottom of the mountain, where an ambulance relayed him to the local hospital.The burst fracture sent his T12 vertebrate into his spine, compromising it by 40 percent. Putting the spine injury into context, Tuscany compared it to a soup can, or anything cylindrical, denting in on the sides.After about two hours in the Mammoth-area hospital, Tuscany said he was flown to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno by way of a Lear Jet. There, Tuscany said a world-renowned back specialist happened to be on call, and he stabilized Tuscanys spine by inserting the plates, rods and screws. The operation required 48 staples to sew up, leaving a 13 1/2-inch scar.It hurt, Tuscany said. Badly. And to make a bad situation worse, his morphine drip made him sick. Vomiting was excruciating, so he stopped taking the morphine.I felt the most pain after surgery, Tuscany said. He then spent three days in the intensive care unit, then five more in the neuro science wing of the hospital. There, he received between 30 and 35 visitors a day including Truckee skiers Daron Rahlves and Marco Sullivan and his large contingent of friends. At one time, 27 visitors crowded into his room to pay a visit.Tuscany was out of bed and in a wheelchair after six days, then started physical therapy, working on standing with the assistance of parallel bars.Every day was a struggle, he said. It was ridiculous going from a fully functional person to just looking at your legs and having them do nothing for you. Its crazy to look at your legs and tell them to move, and they dont.Carter was there every day with him, providing priceless support along with Tuscanys parents, he said.On June 26, 2006, Tuscany was discharged from the hospital.
Once discharged, Tuscany flew back to Vermont. In nearby New Hampshire, he began working with Wayne Burwell, a personal trainer at River Valley Club in Lebanon. The two hit it off and remain good friends to this day.Wayne basically re-instilled the positivity I had back into my mind, Tuscany said.Also back in Vermont, Tuscany had a bad doctor who misdiagnosed a new problem with his feet, which started to drop and turn inward. The doctor said it was because of muscle contractions. After moving back to Truckee in December 2006, Tuscany learned from Ladd Williams of Bear Bones Physical Therapy that the problem was caused by shrinking of his Achilles tendons. His right Achilles had shrunk by 2 1/2 inches and his left by 1 1/2 inches. Tuscany still works with Williams, crediting him and Burwell with how far he has come in his recovery. Ladd has natural healing powers people need to hear about, he said. He just has this positive aura that you dont find in your everyday physical therapist.Tuscany had surgery in May 2007 to repair his right Achilles, then went under the knife again in September to fix the left side. He still needs two more surgeries, one to transfer muscles to his left leg and another to repair damaged toes on his right foot.By November, his feet were flat again. He began using crutches, then switched to a cane within a month. By February of this year, Tuscany was walking under his own power.
On March 25, Tuscany took two runs down Knob Hill at Sugar Bowl along with the assistance of friends.With his legs still far from 100 percent, he couldnt turn. Nevertheless, he skied. Soon after, Tuscany got adaptive ski poles that allow him to initiate turns with the strength in his upper body. So far hes skied five days.His goal: I just want to ski powder again. Thats the only goal I have in skiing right now, Tuscany said.While hes enthusiastic about making powder turns, Tuscany said he has no intention to jump again on anything.No, never. I hit a 3-foot jump on my snowmobile and it was scary, he said. Ill never hit another jump again not on skis, not on a snowmobile, not on any apparatus.