Skier navigates life’s obstacles

By Daniel Girard
Read the full story here.

Skier navigates life's obstacles

Tyler Mosher has no illusions “O Canada” will play in his honour or a medal will hang from his neck.
His goals are more modest – make the team competing in Whistler, his hometown, then put in a solid performance, cracking the top-20 in the 10-kilometre cross-country race and the top-12 in the sprint.
“I’m not even that good yet in comparison to the best of the best,” Mosher, a member of the Canadian Para-Nordic cross-country ski team, says with candour not expected from an elite athlete.
“I’m good. I deserve to be there. But, relatively speaking, I’ve still got a long way to go.”
Nothing like where he’s come from.
On Dec.30, 2000, Mosher’s back “exploded,” breaking in nine places when he fell into a 30-foot hole while snowboarding across the Blackcomb Glacier, near Whistler. Paralyzed below the waist and told he would never walk again, he found after reconstructive surgery some leg muscles still worked.
Mosher took his first steps several months later. Today, he’s regained 60 per cent of the use of his muscles below the waist and walks – “like a penguin,” he jokes – with just a slight limp and no cane.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Mosher says of learning to walk again following what’s considered an incomplete spinal cord injury that left him with paralysis in his bowel and bladder, his butt and various leg muscles.
While walking again was great, it wasn’t enough for Mosher, a Nova Scotia-born landscape designer who moved to Whistler in 1996 and snowboarded ever winter day “because it was fun.” His canes meant he couldn’t get anywhere quickly or safely in the snow, a problem when you live in the mountains.
So, in December 2003, less than six months after Vancouver and Whistler were awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Mosher decided to take up cross-country skiing.
Competing in the Games was not his first priority.
“It was my ticket to getting better,” said the 37-year-old Mosher, noting that its movements helped him to re-develop even more leg muscles and eventually get rid of his canes.
“My big thing was finding a way to enjoy life and winter,” Mosher said in an interview Monday after three separate speeches to about 750 students from Grades 7 to 12 at Oakville’s Appleby College, his alma mater. “I was sitting at home, watching it snow, saying: `Hey, this sucks. I’ve got to do something.'”
It was a message on confronting adversity that resonated with the students. With a folksy charm, he talked about the importance of setting goals and being willing to work with people to accomplish them.
“My life has been about falling and getting up and being determined to go farther next time,” Mosher told senior students in Grade 11 and 12. “Set realistic goals. Don’t be too bold. Don’t be too timid.”
For 17-year-old Michael Kucharski, Mosher’s lesson is inspiring.
“Coming back from a horrific injury like that shows you have to keep going,” said the Grade 12 student. “You can’t give up.”
Mosher didn’t. By 2007, he was competing in International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup races in the standing, classic cross-country category. While his best results have come in the sprint of a little over a kilometre, he’s improved in the 10 and 20K races.

So, with a pair of final World Cup cross-country ski events in Europe in January and February, Mosher has his sights set on locking down a spot for the Games in March.
“The fact of the matter is, I’m not a gold medal contender,” Mosher said. “But I’ve got a great story and I’m going to represent my country and my hometown.
“That’s awesome.”