After his injury, Cole Hoodicoff never expected to be able to rip down a rugged mountain trail. That all changed when SCI BC Kootenays Peer Coordinator Josh Dueck invited the Castlegar teenager to a mountain bike camp.
Cole Hoodicoff had been down some hills in his 18 years. Down the Red Mountain ski hill that left him a T2 paraplegic at 11 years old. Down the rocky road of adjusting to teenage life with an SCI in small town BC.
Hoodicoff wasn’t thinking about any of that on a rainy day this past July, when he edged his way over the lip of the Spine, BC’s first purpose-built adaptive mountain-bike (aMTB) trail.
He had been invited to try adaptive mountain biking with a small group of SCI BC Peers. While he’d seen plenty of regular mountain biking videos of riders ripping down trails on two wheels with precision and style, he imagined that what he was about to try would be something much tamer.
“I’d heard of adaptive mountain biking, and thought maybe I’d be looking at taking the bike for a spin on the road or something,” recalls Hoodicoff.
After he’d swapped out his wheelchair for a state-of-the-art Explorer III Off-Road Handcycle, he found the courage to drop into the muddy dirt trail. Later, he confessed that the experience “completely and utterly” blew his expectations out of the water.
“There’s berms and banked corners like crazy, and you’re flying down from the top of a mountain, down a little windy trail with trees, and over these huge drops,” he says.
“I almost went down on the first corner, but as soon as I saw what I was actually doing, it blew my mind. Because I never would have expected I, not being able to walk, would be able to go down a trail like that.”
The entire epic adventure was organized by Josh Dueck, SCI BC’s Kootenays Peer Coordinator, who applied the gentle peer pressure that would eventually see Hoodicoff reach his empowering “aha” moment at the bottom of the run.
A Paralympic ski champion and multi-medallist in Paralympic, X Games, and World Cup events, Dueck knows better than most about the power of a healing dose of adrenaline in the great outdoors.
“I really love the idea of getting to learn more about yourself through adventure and activity,” says Dueck. “Nature’s a great teacher…Whether it’s moments of solitude, or collective conversations and shared experiences, there’s something about self-realization in these environments that helps us transcend the limitations of our physical bodies and give in to something bigger than ourselves.”
The world’s first adaptive mountain bike trail is the Jetton Park Trail Loop, completed in 2007 in North Carolina. Since then, facilities have been springing up around the world.
Here in BC, the Spine Trail opened in 2017. Located just north of the old mining town of New Denver, the 2.7 kilometre adrenaline rush winds through sub-alpine meadows and canopies of juvenile spruce. The views are spectacular—to the west, the imposing Valhalla Range gives way to a blue strip of Slocan Lake below; to the east, the snow-capped Kokanee mountains are just as breath-taking
Like other purpose-built aMTB trails, the Spine Trail is somewhat different than traditional mountain biking trails. It has been carefully constructed with greater widths and turning radii, along with less severe inclines on the uphill stretches. This makes it ideal for even first-time adaptive mountain bikers such as Hoodicoff, regardless of whether they’re using kneeling or recumbent bikes.
Hoodicoff was enjoying a summer off from his engineering classes at Selkirk college when he learned a group of local Peers with SCI were planning on hitting the new trail—and that he was welcome to come along.
When he learned Dueck was behind the invitation, Hoodicoff was even more intrigued. The two had met years before at Sunnyhill Health Centre, when Dueck popped into the newly-injured boy’s room.
“When I met Josh, he seemed so happy,” recalls Hoodicoff. “And that kind of surprised me, honestly, because he was in a wheelchair. So was I, but I wasn’t too happy about it, although I was trying my damnedest to deal with it.”
Hoodicoff remembers asking Dueck if he could get off the ground and into his wheelchair. “Josh wheeled backwards, got on the ground, and got back into his wheelchair—and that blew me away,” says Hoodicoff. “And then we went out back, and he got into his truck. And my life was transformed.”
In the eight years since he left Sunnyhill, Hoodicoff has transferred countless times from the ground to his chair. Every time, he thinks of “how Josh did it.”
So not surprisingly, Hoodicoff jumped at the opportunity. Fast forward to a grey, soggy day in July. “I saw the bike and I was just amazed,” says Hoodicoff. “I was in awe. The Explorer III Josh brought was just so, so beautiful. Majestic. Big words to use for a bike, but I seriously dream about that bike. The minute I saw it; the minute I rode it. It’s such an awesome piece of equipment.”
One by one, Hoodicoff’s new friends took turns setting up in their rides with chest forward and knees tucked, and then dropped into the trail. When it came to Hoodicoff’s turn, the rain eased up, and so too did the young man’s nerves. He leaned into the chest plate, turned the handlebars, and let gravity take over.
“It blew everything I ever expected I would be capable of doing out of the water,” he says. “And it really opened my eyes, a lot bigger, to see what is possible for somebody like me, especially because my injury is rather high. I have no core control, no balance.”
While Hoodicoff had no idea about the epiphany that lay in store for him, it was all part of Dueck’s plan for his young protege all along.
“I definitely had to re-frame what outdoor adventure meant to me after my injury,” says Dueck, who found old friends harder to keep up with and familiar environments more challenging to navigate after his injury in a ski jump accident. “It’s about being okay with having to readjust your perspective.”
Today, Dueck is inspired to help Kootenay-based wheelchair users discover—or rediscover—that sense of confidence and adventure. In the process, they all learn through a shared Peer experience—about the power of adventure and sport, but also about overcoming any of the challenges of life with SCI.
It’s very important to meet Peers who have been through something similar; to meet other people in wheelchairs and ask the personal questions you’ve been unable to ask anyone else because nobody else would know.”
“I think I definitely see myself wanting to be in that position,” says Hoodicoff. “I would love to be an inspiration to anyone and everybody who could use it.”
Less than a month later, he found himself face-to-face with the Spine Trail again—this time with a little more experience. Around him, a dozen adaptive mountain bikers prepared to shred the gnar as part of a larger SCI BC Adaptive Mountain Bike weekend, held in partnership with the Rad Society and Kootenay Sufferfest.
Chalk another victory up for Dueck, and all of his SCI BC Peer Coordinator colleagues across the province who also embrace outdoor adventure as a great way to empower Peers in every aspect of their lives.
“We live in a golden era,” says Dueck. “There are so many resources and adaptations available to us—from mountain biking to hiking to surfing and skiing and everything else. If we’re able to provide some direction and some resources for folks to adjust their equipment so they’re able to enter and enjoy these environments, that’s pretty awesome.”
This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of The Spin, alongside other stories including:
- Walt’s Time
- Calorie Crunch: Obesity and SCI
- Moving Matters
- and more!