Roy Tuscany co-founded the Tahoe-based 501.c.3 High Fives Foundation, which has helped over 150 athletes recover from their paralyzing injuries and return to the sports they love. The story below originally appeared in POWDER MAGAZINE ~ November 2012 issue (volume 41, issue 3):
On April 29, 2006, Roy Tuscany was having a bad morning. He thought a couple laps alone in the Mammoth Mountain terrain park would clear his head. More specifically, Tuscany wanted to hit the step-up jump he and the rest of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team coaches sessioned weeks prior. Around 9 a.m., and without checking his speed, Tuscany cruised in and popped off the takeoff. Soaring through the air, he watched the knuckle, and then the landing of the jump, disappear below him. In the moments that followed, he closed his eyes. His life was about to change forever.
Everything in the C.R. Johnson Healing Center is happening simultaneously. From his desk chair, Tuscany, 31, rips open an envelope for a donation check, while speaking to a corporate sponsor on the phone, and giving hand-signal directions to Adam Baillargeon and Steve Wallace. In the corner, Baillargeon, 29, crafts a weekly e-mail blast highlighting the foundation's new program, B.A.S.I.C.S., which promotes safety and awareness in the mountains through coaching. The program's director is pro skier J.T. Holmes. All the while, Wallace, 31, handwrites thank-you notes to recent donors.
This is a typical day for the High Fives Foundation. Based in Truckee, California, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit is dedicated to raising money and awareness for athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing a dream in the winter action sports community. High Fives is the preeminent foundation of its kind in skiing and a staple of the Tahoe area, throwing fundraisers--big and small--almost every day of the week. As of August 2012, the foundation has raised just under $900,000 in their three-year history.
Tuscany awoke to an air mask on his face and two ski patrollers tending to him. "My then girlfriend and her best friends were right there," says Tuscany. "They looked like they had just seen a puppy get hit by a car."
Rushed to the local hospital, he was told he'd broken his T12 vertebrae and would never walk again. "I thought, 'No, that's impossible. I'll be fine in a couple of hours,'" he says. Tuscany was flown to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada, for surgery to repair his broken vertebrae that had been dented like a soup can.
The morning after surgery, Bill Hudson, a former Olympian and executive director of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team Foundation, set up an umbrella fund called Roy's Recovery Fund. Supporters raised $25,000 in the first week following his injury and $85,000 over two years. The money went toward physical therapy and disability and adaptive equipment.
In the hospital, Tuscany developed a way to put his caretakers at ease. "Doctors and nurses are literally petrified of you," he says. "They are visiting so many people and they're only there to tell you what you're supposed to get for drugs and care." He felt like there wasn't a personal connection between him and his doctors, so he started insisting they give him a high five. "At first they were like, 'What do I do?' and I said, 'Just slap my hand. I'm not going to kill you or anything.'"
After 43 days of six- to eight-hour sessions of intense physical therapy, he walked out of the hospital with the assistance of a walker and ankle foot orthotics. He flew back to his native Vermont to be close with family and friends and work with personal trainer Wayne Burwell on stabilizing his core, hips, and knees.
Tuscany elected to return to Tahoe in December 2006, putting the Roy's Recovery Fund money to use by visiting Ladd Williams, a physical therapist in Truckee that was helping a local skier recover from a traumatic brain injury. In therapy, Tuscany and the local skier hit it off, and the two walked the road to recovery together, getting to know each other in the process. Above all, Tuscany and the local skier, C.R. Johnson, wanted to return to the mountains.