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In April 2006, Roy Tuscany was an aspiring professional skier and a coach for Sugar Bowl Academy near Lake Tahoe, California. While skiing at Mammoth Mountain, he overshot a jump, exploding his T12 vertebra and leaving him paralyzed from the belly button down. The accident changed Tuscany's life forever.
Almost a decade later, it's now helping to positively impact the lives of many others. That injury, and the help he received afterward, inspired Tuscany to start the High Fives Foundation, a non-profit designed to help athletes who have suffered life-altering injuries.
"I was super lucky: I had a lot of friends," Tuscany says. Between the communities in his native Vermont and his home in North Lake Tahoe, $85,000 was raised over two years to help Tuscany come back from his injury. "[The money raised allowed] me to pay for everything I needed, so I just focused on my recovery."
In 2008, with the aid of adaptive ski poles, which he still uses, Tuscany was able to get back on snow. "Instead of writing thank-you cards—which I did to all these donors—it just felt like I should do more," he says. "I thought, 'How can I pay it forward? How can I create better for this world out of my own injury?'"
In 2009, Tuscany launched High Fives based on the same concept of community that enabled him to get back on his feet. In the six years since, the foundation has helped 72 athletes in 19 different states, totaling almost $900,000 in grants. (Most recently, on Mar. 30, they hosted the Mothership Classic with Arcade Belts and One Toyota of Oakland at California’s Alpine Meadows and raised $37,500 at that one event.)
There is no typical aid package. "We've given out grants as small as $400 for someone to learn how to adaptive ski," Tuscany says, "all the way up to $25,000 to get a girl into the number-one spinal-cord center in the country."
High Fives refers to its beneficiaries as athletes, which the foundation defines as anyone who has set a recovery goal. "That can be as far as 'I like skiing with my boyfriend, and now that I'm hurt, I want to get back to skiing with my boyfriend,'" says Tuscany. "That was a goal that a young girl gave to us after she got hurt."
In the case of Cody Walker, a Salt Lake City resident who broke his neck snowboarding in 2013, the goal was simply to be able to play with his kids. High Fives provided him with two grants totaling more than $17,000.
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Helping people fund their recovery is the first cog in what Tuscany calls the foundation's "Past, Present, Future" concept. The second phase, Present, is the C.R. Johnson Healing Center, a 2,6000-square-foot facility named for the late ski icon who famously fought through a traumatic brain injury suffered in 2005. Johnson passed away in an unrelated ski accident at Squaw Valley in 2010.
"The Healing Center is a place where athletes and community members can come into a no-questions-asked environment and focus on their recovery," Tuscany says. "Tahoe has a lot of adaptive athletes. There wasn't a place… You don't really go to the gym to work out. People are comparing their blown knees to you breaking your back and being paralyzed. It's kind of disheartening every once in a while."
The Healing Center, which provides all facets of healing, including physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and workout space, was something Tuscany and Johnson discussed while they were in physical therapy together in 2006. "We would talk about all these concepts," remembers Tuscany. "How it didn't need to feel like a hospital, and it shouldn't have that hospital smell, and there should be different types of insurance-paid stuff and out-of-pocket aspects, and then just space for people to use, and have it all embodied in something that never felt like you were in a physical therapy place."
Working with the Johnson family, High Fives opened the C.R. Johnson Healing Center in 2011. "It finally is working, and it is so cool," says Tuscany. "We are seeing six to eight athletes a day come in to use [the facility], working out with personal trainers, working out in groups, working out with friends. C.R. would be so fired up."
The final prong is the B.A.S.I.C.S. (Be Aware, Safe In Critical Situations) educational program, developed with the help of pro skier J.T. Holmes. "We thought that there must be a way to catch an athlete before they crash," Tuscany says. "So we created a five-part video series." B.A.S.I.C.S focuses on subjects such as avalanche awareness, terrain-park protocol, and helmet use and reaches young athletes online and through school presentations.
To raise money for these projects, High Fives holds 10 major events a year—five on the East Coast and five in the West—as well as another 40 or so minor events. Major events include ski-a-thons, golf tournaments, and an annual Squaw Valley Prom. "Fundraiser is a big word," Tuscany says. "We like to focus on the first three letters, the fun. If you have fun, then you'll raise funds for the foundation."
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