Roy Tuscany is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the High Fives Foundation, whose mission is to support the dreams of mountain action sports athletes by raising injury prevention awareness while providing resources and inspiration to those who suffer life-altering injuries. In 2006, Roy suffered a life-altering injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down and was the catalyst to the creation of High Fives. Roy turned the financial and community support of his own recovery into a ‘pay-it-forward’ adventure with the creation of High Fives non-profit foundation.
After earning degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Vermont in 2004, Roy decided to take two years to pursue his true passion of being a professional free skier before putting those degrees to use. Just before his two years were up, on April 29, 2006 he had a skiing accident that changed his life forever. During our podcast recording Roy takes us through the moment when he went 130 feet on a what should have been a 100 foot jump. He landed from about 30 feet in the air and the resultant impact with the ground caused him to fracture the T-12 vertebrae in his spine. Upon impact, Roy thought his legs were shot through his body and and he was sure that his legs were coming out of his shoulders. This injury left him without any motion, feeling or any ability to move his lower extremities below his belly button. This was a start to a new phase of his life.
During our conversation, Roy talks about a way for listeners to experience what it feels like to have paralysis. Make a fist and put it on a solid surface or table and then try to lift your ring finger up. It is nearly impossible. Give it a try.
"Whatever Roy puts into this recovery, Roy will get in return."
Roy believes he overshot the jump for a number of reasons, which includes, not doing a speed check that day (I couldn't find a good video example of this, but Roy explains in the episode), a new pair of wider skis with a fresh coat of wax and the snow being harder in the morning. All of these factors combined resulted in increased speed. Roy remembers being immediately devastated, but that didn't affect his sense of humor because he was joking with one of the EMT's about going to a sushi dinner later that night. Roy's positivity throughout his journey has been a staple in his recovery and in High Five's culture today.
Not long after Roy arrived at the hospital, a radiology tech told him that he crushed his vertebrae and that he will never walk again. This scene is all too common throughout the podcast interviews I have done to this point. Roy calls these "instances of verbal diarrhea". I think thats a great way to put it. Fortunately, his surgeon took a more positive approach when he talked to Roy, by saying "Whatever Roy puts into this recovery, Roy will get in return." When the surgeon came into check on Roy after surgery, Roy gave him a high five. Later on in the podcast interview, Roy talks about how it is literally impossible to have a negative thought while giving a high five.
"Surrounding yourself with A positive community and finding individuals that want to help you succeed, that's what really pushED me through those hardships throughout the recovery."
During the rehab process, Roy made some great strides, but had a few complications along the way. Roy's achilles tendons shortened by two inches and he could only walk on the sides of his feet. This forced him to wear Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFO's) which caused painful sores on his feet. AFO's provide support where there is instability. Like many athletes, Roy saw massive peaks, valleys and plateaus throughout his recovery. He relied heavily on his positive support system during the low points and specifically named his trainer Wayne Burwell "the most amazing human I've ever met in my life," and one of his physical therapists, Ladd Williams. Roy also looked back on some of the lessons he learned from his legendary high school cross country coach. Coach Kerrigan's influence on Roy's recovery was, "regardless of whatever your expectations are, use the expectations of others to fuel your push."
Kaizen - a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.
"I have ridden the horse hard and put it away wet a few too many times."
Roy's focus throughout his recovery was always getting back on the mountain. Roy got back on the mountain in 2008 and learned how to approach the mountain from an adaptive perspective as a "four tracker" (pictured above). Unfortunately, this new approach on the mountain wasn't completely injury free. On one particular run, Roy's ski got stuck in the snow in such a way that it caused a bad enough break in his femur to require 13 screws, a floating screw and 2 plates (x-ray right). This injury turned out to be a much more painful recovery than the spinal cord injury due to spasticity.
Roy doesn’t ski as much anymore and instead, he looks for activities that bring him joy but don’t have the risk factor. Skiing he says, no longer lights the entire flame for him anymore because he is afraid of having another catastrophic injury. You can hear it in Roy's voice during this episode that surfing is now something that lights the entire flame for him these days.
"Would my Mom want me to do this?"
At the end of this episode Roy and I discuss the Origin of High Fives along with all of the amazing programs and initiatives they offer. Below you will find some of these topics of discussion:
- Origin of the High Fives Name
- How to give a perfect high five.
- Who invented the high five.
- High Fives injury prevention program (BASICS)
- B(Being) A(Aware) S(Safe) I(In) C(Critical) S(Situations)
- BASICS is a series of videos that interview athletes who suffered life-altering injuries in mountain sports to promote smart decision making and preventing others from making those same mistakes in the future. Although these are focused on mountain sports, there are direct correlations to improving safety in all sports. Personally, my life altering injury fit into the Ego vs Intuition category listed below. I highly recommend watching the video below.
- The Five Critical Mistakes that lead to life-altering injuries:
- Shooting in the Dark (entering a situation without any prior experience or knowledge)
- Dropping Your Guard (letting your guard down in an environment that seems non-threatening but has consequences every bit as real as the most risky of places)
- Know Your Line
- Ego vs Intuition (not listening to your gut response intuition and instead letting your ego lead your decisions against your own better, deeper knowledge)
- The Five Critical Mistakes that lead to life-altering injuries:
#HELMETS ARE COOL
#HelmetsAreCool focuses on helmet usage and safety while highlighting High Fives Athlete Danny Toumarkine’s recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury he suffered while snowboarding without a helmet along with three other featured athletes.
In our interview, Roy says a good way to get someone to wear a helmet is to ask them if they put a protective case on their laptop or phone because why protect that and not your head? You only have one brain.
#KnowYourPark is the fourth installment for the High Fives Foundation B.A.S.I.C.S. Program Service. #KnowYourPark is a 22-minute public service announcement filmed and edited in a ski documentary format to educate young snow sport athletes about the inherent risks and rewards of skiing and riding within the terrain park. The film is endorsed by the National Ski Patrol Safety Team and highlights the importance of terrain park safety through five core values: Protection, Conditions, Terrain Park Features, Personal Ability, and Terrain Park Etiquette.
- The Empowerment Fund - The empowerment fund provides resources and inspiration to those who have suffered a life-altering injury. Life-altering injuries are injuries such as spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, amputation or other mobility-limiting injuries that occurred in an athlete’s lifetime. The resources and inspiration we provide come in the form of board-approved grant funding paid to service providers in nine funding categories: living expenses, insurance, health, travel, high fives healing network, adaptive equipment, winter equipment, and “stoke” (positive energy, outlook, attitude).
- CR Johnson Healing Center - The CR Johnson Healing Center is a 2,800 sq/ft training facility providing resources for athletes in recovery from life-altering and sport related injuries. The Healing Center attracts over 3,720 visits a year from community members and High Fives Athletes.
- Military to the Mountains - M2M is a High Fives program service demonstrating our deep sense of appreciation for the men and women who serve our country in the military — specifically for those veterans who have suffered life-altering injuries in the name of loyalty to America. Injured US military veterans are provided the opportunity to train at a 9-week program at David Vobora's Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas, Texas and Paralympic Sport Reno in Reno, Nevada to prepare for a week of skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, instructed by Achieve Tahoe adaptive ski program — 100% fueled and inspired by the High Fives Foundation.
I found Roy's story through our former guest, David Vobora's Instagram. Vobora was surfing with Roy and his crew at High Fives. After doing this podcast for close to 2 years now, it is interesting to me to see how small of a world this sports health & safety community can be. However, it shouldn't be that surprising as all our stories are similar in many way. The communities at David Vobora's Adaptive Training Foundation and Roy's High Fives Foundation are both cultivated on inclusiveness and that anyone can be a part of it. It is amazing what can come from individuals trying to prevent the suffering of others and I hope that one day this podcast can be thought of in the same light as these two incredible dudes.