Paralympic Hall of Famer and one of Kimberley’s hometown heroes Josh Dueck has been elected to the International Paralympic Committee Athletes’ Council for a four-year term.
It’s been a busy winter for Dueck, and so the decision to take on the challenge of this new role was not a light one. His day job, governing Freestyle BC, is currently in full swing with their high-performance teams travelling to train and compete throughout North America and Europe. Dueck supports these programs as well as the development of other freestyle programs in Kimberley, Panorama and Fernie among others.
He told the Bulletin that alone is enough to keep him busy and excited, but then he also has his two children in ski programs and gets to do some Nordic and downhill skiing together as a family as well.
In addition to that, winter 2022 saw Dueck head to China as Team Canada’s Chef de Mission for the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Games.
“It was robust, it was everything that I thought it would be and a whole bunch more,” Dueck said.
“It was super amazing to be that close to the athletes and support them in the final leg of their journey and witness them excel and it was thoroughly impressive given the circumstances the two years building into it, how prepared all of the athletes arrived and there was almost like this sigh of relief that we all made it there safely and then this deeper sense of gratitude.”
Right off the bat, from observing how hungry, humble and grateful all the athletes were to compete, Dueck knew the Games were going to be amazing, and he was thrilled with how everyone performed. This included the great showings from the junior athletes — it was the first time at the games for 19 of the 49 athletes who went to Beijing — as well as the elder statesmen like Brian McKeever, who Dueck said lead the charge and continued to dominate in the field.
With the pandemic leading up to it and the invasion of Ukraine unfolding throughout, Dueck said that the athletes tried to focus on the games, support their friends from the Ukraine.
”I don’t think we will and I hope we never see a Games quite like that,” he said. “But our team did well and our hosts did an incredible job, the Beijing Organizing Committee — the venues were superb and the volunteers were super friendly and really helpful, so it made for, from purely an athletic perspective, a very good games.”
THe opportunity to be nominated to the IPC Paralympic Committee came about in January, when the Canadian Paralympic Committee, which governs all of the Paralympic Sport in Canada, told Dueck they’d like to nominate him to sit on the IPC Athlete Council if he was interested.
As previously stated, Dueck was in the midst of a particularly busy winter, but felt that if they believed him to be a good candidate to represent Canada and that he’d have a chance to win a seat, he was open to talk about it.
They explained to him that he was a good fit because at 42, he’s relatively young, but has 25 years experience in the sports sector, plus they said he’s passionate, cares about the sport and the athletes, is invested and wants to see some change.
“I’m hoping that the lived experience that I have brings good value to the board and at the same time, this is a big step up for me right now,” Dueck said.
“Now I’m sitting on the governing board for the International Sport Community and representing the athlete voice and there’s just a small handful of us from around the world that get to represent summer and winter sports and bring forward what the athletes and the different nations see as a priority in terms of things that need to be changed.”
Dueck said he suspects the first year of the four-year term will involve getting his feet wet, and starting to understand how the board operates and what some of their primary concerns are.
There are three top things Dueck is interested in focusing on: safe sport, classification and vocational transitioning of athletes.
He explained that the issue of classification in paralympic sport seems to be fairly contentious. There are three primary categories: visually impaired, standing and seated. Within each of these there are further classifications, for example, in the seated category, someone could be paralyzed from the chest down, or from the navel down, or from below the waist.
“I think about skiing, but then there’s five winter sports, there’s a few dozen winter sports and it becomes actually pretty complicated and it’s very contested right now,” he said. “So that’s definitely one of the top priorities for the council is like, how do we classify? Who do we provide — like is it physiotherapists, is it coaches, etc.”
The repurposing or transitioning of athletes — supporting them in their transitions both into high-performance sport, but more-so on their way out — is another issue that is very important to Dueck.
He referenced Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps’ documentary where he talks about the letdown experienced after his sport career ended.
“You would think that he’s the type of guy that would have it all and a mountain of opportunity, but he even felt the pains of leaving sport and I can for sure tell you from my court it’s been really challenging,” Dueck said. “At least the first few years stepping out of sport and even eight years later, I still look back on it quite fondly, and the transition out for me was not that smooth, it was pretty bumpy and I think there’s ways that we can improve that.”
Dueck’s passion for ski sports have humble roots, working a paper route for the Kimberley Bulletin to pay for his first pair of skis. From there it was a rapid trajectory forward through competitive skiing, but financial constraints held him back from competing at the Olympic level, so he got into coaching.
His para-alpine skiing began after he broke his back when a flip went wrong in 2004. Since then his accolades and achievements are endless; gold and silver medals in the Olympics and the X Games, being the first person to do a backflip on a sit-ski, being named to the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame to name a few.
His transition out of skiing into sports governance came about with some fortune on his side, he said, as his roll as executive director for Frestyle BC is a byproduct from the sport community he grew up in, including some athletes from Kimberley who are on the board as well.
When some of his old friends encouraged him to apply, Dueck said he became the first person with a disability at least in Canada, and possibly in the world, to take on a role governing an able-bodied sport.
“That was probably one the big stepping stones for me to qualify and make the IBC Athlete Council,” he said. “So it’s pretty cool how sport in itself can take care of itself and I feel like I’m very fortunate in that way, but it took a lot of work and a lot of time to finally get to where I am, like 25 years in the sport sector and then just, call it what it is, maybe a bit of good luck.”
When he retired from the Paralympics, Dueck said he felt so lucky looking back on his storied career, and knew he had to do something to give back and this new opportunity on the IPC Athletes Council is a good place to do it.
“I don’t think this would be possible without the support of the Canadian Parlaypic Committee and them nudging me in the right direction and supporting the actual campaign itself,” he said. “Lots of credit to the Canadian Paralympic Committee and those who have come before me to pave the path and now it’s my opportunity to take a contribution which is pretty sweet.”
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