Paying It Forward – Interview with High Fives Foundation

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Why do we do it? Why do we push ourselves to the limit and beyond?  Every year, athletes are going faster, sending it bigger, and attempting more challenging tricks. More spins, bigger air, narrower routes, steeper lines, higher drops… for what?

As an active participant in the outdoor lifestyle I adore, I can only justify why I test my own boundaries. I do not have anything to prove, anyone to show off to, nor do I have the intention of becoming  a professional athlete.  I simply partake in the endurance, challenges, and euphoric rewards for the freedom that it gives me. Not the freedom we often hear in a political or ethical sense, but rather freedom as a form of personal liberation. To choose freely, to listen to your instinct, let go of dogmas and to become unattached.  It is my choice to indulge in the present moment, I choose to send this line, this ridge, this wave, this rock. My thoughts quiet and I simply let my heart guide me to the next moment.

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But with this freedom comes a daunting and inevitable risk of injury. If you are familiar with this sense of ‘freedom’, then there is a good chance you have experienced or know someone who has experienced a mishap. As the rate of overall injuries decline among skiers, the rate of serious injuries (head trauma, paralysis, amputation) has been on the rise as athletes attempt more challenging terrain and tricks (National Ski Areas Association).  This aspect of action-sports is intimidating and when it happens, there is a good chance life will proceed differently.  Knowing this inherent risk, we still partake because our drive to ‘push our limits’ gives us another thing I believe is a key component in this lifestyle, a sense of community. Community is more than your neighbors and local postman, it goes beyond our residency. A community is also a feeling, a feeling of support and love from like-minded individuals. No matter what injury occurs or hardship we encounter, the outdoor community is one of the strongest binds that keeps us doing what we love.

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In my quest to document those individuals and organizations in the action-sports world that share these same feelings of freedom, community, and spreading stoke, I would like to recognize the High Fives Foundation this month.  All photography is courtesy of High Fives Foundation & Elevated Image Photography. 

High Fives is a 501-c-3 nonprofit foundation based in Truckee, CA that is “dedicated to raising money and awareness for athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community”. With a big following, reputable sponsors and an established spot in the outdoor community, I was a bit intimidated to contact Roy Tuscany at first, the founder of High Fives. I’ll admit, I’m not very good at ‘playing it cool’.  If I think you’re awesome, I’ll straight up come out and tell you how awesome you are!  Without any speculation, I immediately emailed Roy after watching the High Fives video and told him that he needed to know exactly how much stoke he was spreading! I quickly got a response, and next thing I knew I had a Skype interview date with Roy Tuscany and director of operations Adam Baillargeon. I was to be told a very inspiring and moving story.

Roy Tuscany, Founder of High Fives Foundation

I met Roy on Skype and we instantly swapped snowfall reports and season summaries. He gave me a 360 degree tour of him and Adam’s office with his laptop, which was occupied by desks, grins, and a giant whiteboard with goals and fundraising ideas.  The two looked like ski town compadres: shaggy hair, snapbacks, and proper goggle tans.  After we were done geeking out about the last snow storm, Roy began to tell his story.

Post college is a strange time for many of us: Do we pursue a career in the area of study that  we spent 4+ years trying to master or do we go search for an experience that fulfills something deeper inside of us, our passion?  For Roy Tuscany, it was searching for a place that would fulfill his burning desire to shred the steepest, pow-filled lines and  perfectly maintained jumps in a village of like-minded spirits, Tahoe, CA.  After graduating from UMV, Roy landed a job as a freeskier coach at Sugar Bowl Academy in 2006. The more time spent on the hill, Roy realized he had what it took to become a professional skier and began to chase his vision.  One day at a freestyle competition, Roy decided to wake up early and take a few morning laps to warm up.  His first run went unexpected.

“The snow felt different under me,” Roy paused, thinking back to that moment, “I didn’t speed check and I overshot the jump”.

Roy knew he was in trouble while suspended in the air, and when he came down, pain struck. But even worse, suddenly pain was absent.  He was rushed to the hospital in Reno, Nevada where he was diagnosed with a ruptured  T12 vertebra and told he may never walk again.

In an instant his life was changed forever.

As I sat there listening to Roy reminisce about the accident, I noticed that the bright, encouraging smile never left his face.  Even though I was sitting on the edge of my seat, Tuscany jumped right into all the positive things that started to evolve as a result of his injury.

“I was super lucky to be working at Sugar Bowl Academy at the time, people around me raised a bunch of money and I rehabbed for two years”.

With rehab and an immense amount of support, Roy was walking again in 2009.

In 2009, Roy’s recovery was the basis to start High Fives, “I couldn’t thank everyone who had helped me enough”.  High Fives became a way to “pay it forward”.  Roy began to work on a program that would act as the safety net for the winter action sports community.  As I tried to hold back tears, I listened to Roy explain how his foundation is passionate about the most simple and human of things, by just “being there for people”.

“With High Fives, we have a network of people who have suffered similar injuries and we provide them alternative treatment and support. There are so many avenues and so many different concepts of how to heal correctly. There are certain things people can’t give you a straight answer for, things like ‘will I ever be able to run or pee again…’?”

Alternative treatment includes various facets of recovery such as acupuncture, massage, chiropractic work, and training through CR Johnson’s Healing Center which allows people to recover at their own pace.  Roy explained what it was like to go through a life altering injury and how there are questions you have that sometimes your doctor, family or friends can’t answer.  As Roy continued, I imagined myself in those circumstances and realized how valuable that sort of community would be. High Fives is there to answer those questions that are personal and emotional, the questions that you might be afraid to ask other people.

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In addition to High Fives being there on a personal level, the program also offers financial support.  The Winter Empowerment Fund gives financial support to those athletes in the recovering process. This includes free and discounted treatment, as well as working with service providers to reduce cost of treatment.

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High Fives also focuses on preventive care and provides vital information on the dangers of winter action sports.  Their B.A.S.I.C.S program is an outreach program to educate youth on safety issues and how to better their critical thinking skills. The program also emphasizes the importance of wearing a helmet, see #helmetsarecool on their social platforms.  For more information, check out their B.A.S.I.C.S video!

With 59 athletes and hopes to grow to 75+, High Fives is not only a successful story in that it is an established non-profit with sponsors like Smith Optics, GoPro and Soul Poles, but more so because of the progress it inspires in it’s athletes. It has changed and given hope to so many lives and continues to inspire those out there to keep chasing their dream no matter how critical and challenging the obstacles are.

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BASICS On Snow Camp 2012

As Roy wrapped up what High Fives was all about, I got to sneak in a few more questions.  I wanted to know what he loved about action-sports and who he looks up too.

“I like action-sports because as a kid growing up in the eighties, you got to see a lot of changes from main stream sports to individual ones and camaraderie, you’re not competing as a team but competing as a community. I was drawn to action-sports lifestyle because these new sports didn’t require a full team to make happen, the concept, the freedom they allowed, expression, everyone has a different style.”

Roy looked a bit overwhelmed when I asked him who he looks up to.  On his face was the “Where do I even begin!?” expression.  He looks up to entrepreneurs, who set goals and accomplish those goals, those who are always working toward goals, whatever they might be.  He looks up to people who were told “NO!” a hundred times, but kept working and improving on what they were doing anyway. And he looks up to impressive people such as Shane McConkey. As Roy spoke about Shane, admiration swept across his face:

“How he lived his life, so involved in the community, but no one ever knew about it, known for not only what he did  for skiing, but what he did for life!”

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As Roy and I were wrapping up our chat, he told me I was missing half the story of High Fives and handed me over to co-worker, friend, and a big piece of the heart of High Fives, Adam Baillargeon. As the computer camera shifted, I again saw a glimpse of the big white board with ideas, dates, doodles and goals! I asked Adam about their biggest goals:

“One is becoming a transparent foundation, where people at any time can ask any question.  At High Fives, they are always redefinding , rebuilding, and rebranding their healing center.”

I wasn’t sure if ‘refinding’ was a word, but I think I will for sure adopt it. Baillargeon puts the FUN in fundraiser, and as an employee of a NPO myself, I know exactly how much work that is! In fact, the week before the interview, Adam coordinated a golf fundraiser to help raise money for those athletes who have experienced a life altering injury.  The course was donated and the whole community joined in to support High Fives and their uplifting mission.

On the Left: Adam Baillargeon, Director of Operations

Golf Fundraiser 2014

As if I didn’t already have a heavy dose of inspiration talking to Roy, Adam went on to talk about his own journey and life obstacles.   He moved to Tahoe, California in 2007 to immerse himself in the winter sports community. Prior to his move, Adam had overcome one of life’s most challenging curve balls:  Cancer.  During his battle with cancer, Adam met Shane McConkey through the Make A Wish Foundation.  Adam skied with Shane during the course of conquering cancer, and they remained friends after their trip. When Adam established himself in Tahoe, he met Roy through mutual friends.  Adam and Roy’s exchange of cool fundraising ideas and their strong sense of ‘spreading stoke’ was the final fruition of the High Fives Foundation.

Adam explained the logistics of High Fives and how to apply for a grant.  Each case is treated differently and closely examined. Adam’s advice for those who have been severely affected from an injury is to:

“Definitely reach out to us, we can find a solution even if you don’t make the grant, no matter where you are you can get matched up with the best healers in that area.”

Adam looks up to the athletes he gets to work with every day, saying that it’s “those who keep a positive outlook, it’s super inspiring to be around them every day.”

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Adaptive Surf Camp 2012

The interview ended with Adam and I both exchanging our love for the action-sports community.

“It’s a great community, whatever happens good or bad, it’s a community, we share the same interests and stick together no matter what.”

Thank you Roy and Adam for sharing your stories, staying positive and most of all: simply being there for all of us.

Check out High Fives Foundation and help support athletes by donating!

All photography is courtesy of High Fives Foundation & Elevated Image Photography. 

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One thought on “Paying It Forward – Interview with High Fives Foundation

  1. Kirk Swahili says:

    Inspiring! The world needs more people like these guys!

    “It’s a great community, whatever happens good or bad, it’s a community, we share the same interests and stick together no matter what.”

    ^ great quote

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