By Tracy Greenhalgh
Tragedy struck, then the rising
The High Fives Foundation, started nine years ago by Roy Tuscany, poses a powerful mission statement: To support the dreams of outdoor sports athletes by raising injury prevention awareness while providing resources and inspiration to those who suffer life-altering injuries.
This vision wasn’t churned out by a team of marketers; it’s Tuscany’s own vision as the survivor of a skiing accident which left his spinal cord injured and his lower body paralyzed twelve years ago. A promising young athlete with high hopes of becoming a world class professional skier, Tuscany was training at Mammoth resort when his faulty landing that day profoundly altered the course of his life, and the lives of countless others in the future.
“When I got hurt in 2006 it was before crowd funding. I was lucky enough to be part of a great community in Truckee, CA and in Vermont. Because of this wonderful group of people I had the funds I needed for my two-year recovery so I didn’t have to worry. It was overwhelming. I sent update emails and thank you notes to the people I felt did so much for me. I felt like I wanted to pay it forward to others who might one day face this situation, and that’s what got me into this concept,” says Tuscany.
“After my surgery I gave my surgeon a high five for performing such a great surgery for me. I was super lucky. I wanted to extend this to others who might not be so lucky,” says Tuscany on how he came up with the name of his foundation.
High Fives rescues injured athletes with an array of help from living expenses, insurance, healthcare, travel, adaptive equipment and an overall positive attitude, or “stoke”, as the High Fivers refer to it. The organization also helps reach young athletes with The B.A.S.I.C.S – Being Aware Safe in Critical Situations to promote smart decision making in the mountains and to prevent injuries of any kind.
High Fives has recovered or returned 187 athletes to the sport they love since 2009, and in 2017 ran eleven adaptive sports camps for more than 92 High Fives Athletes.
Back on the Snow against the odds
Tuscany was told he would never walk or ski again and says he had to relearn everything in his life from the ground up. Bolstered by the help of strong, positive mentors and friends, along with his burgeoning foundation, he stepped back into skis and hit the slopes of Sugar Bowl in Lake Tahoe a mere two years after his accident.
“The first time I went skiing again I thought it would be like riding a bike, but I quickly learned that the evolution of a turn starts in the feet and goes up. Since I have no control below the knees, it’s hard to ski conventionally. I learned I’d need adaptations to learn to enjoy the mountain again, so I ski with specially made ski boots, and outrigger ski poles that have ski tips on the end, to create the stopping motion and carve turns,” says Tuscany.
As he continues to discover options to help him gain more comfort and assurance on the hill Tuscany says “I’m really having fun on the mountain, but I’m still trying to improve and use adaptation.”
Mentoring fellow survivors
“Mentoring others is one of my favorite things, and we have the coolest veterans program through the foundation. They go through nine weeks of personal training, then they come to Squaw Valley for a program we put on for them,” says Tuscany.
Tuscany has a special bond with Trey Humphey, an ex-marine who stepped on a land mine while helping a comrade. Like Tuscany, Humphrey had skiing in his blood from an early age, and with the same resolve to get back on the snow. He is now one of the best monoskiers in the world as a Paralympian and X-Games competitor.
“He’s now skiing with 4 tracking outrigger ski poles and two skis, and he loves it. On Sundays we both ski together and work on his method. It’s so cool for me to mentor someone who loves it so much. The new adaptations get us out of our comfort zone, and that’s how we get better. It’s the highlight of my week to ski with him,” says Tuscany.
A life focused on helping others
As High Five Foundation’s Executive Director, Tuscany’s days are full, and meaningful.
“I work a lot, it’s what I do! The day my accident happened I believe there’s a reason I didn’t die. I think I was meant to influence people in a positive manner. I know my role in life is to help other people, it’s what I focus on,” says Tuscany.
Tuscany is also looking forward to another exciting milestone this summer, his marriage to Bailey Le Clair, a nurse he met in a hospital the foundation partners with. “She’s an amazing human,” says Tuscany.
Tuscany and High Fives collaborate with many ski resorts across the country and his relationship with Copper Mountain is a special one.
John Monson, Copper’s Director of Sales and Marketing, and Tuscany have a great friendship, formed years ago when they connected at Sugar Bowl.
“John’s got a passion for his job, he’s not adamant about selling the most lift tickets, he cares about creating a great story line for Copper’s guests. John and the rest of the Copper team are cool. These guys care about what they do very much, so collaborating with them is wonderful,” says Tuscany.
Monson returns Tuscany’s sentiment. “While everyone knows High Fives does great work helping athletes after injury, they’re also making great strides in educating skiers and riders of all ages on how to be smart and how to avoid those accidents from happening in the first place. Copper is proud to support the organization via the Feel Good Fridays and Woodward Wednesdays contributions,” says Monson.
Learn more about Feel Good Fridays: http://www.coppercolorado.com/things-to-do/events/featured-events