As chef de mission for Canada’s 2022 Paralympic team, Josh Dueck wants to create opportunity from the unknown.
It’s a mantra he takes from Ozzie Sawicki, who served in the role while Dueck was winning a gold medal in super combined alpine skiing at the 2014 Sochi Games.
As other teams set out to the hill to begin training, Canada was left behind due to a luggage mixup. It wasn’t a major setback, but it did throw off athletes’ practice schedules.
Sawicki turned it into a positive: “This additional time to acclimatize, to [get] some recovery training is going to play to our advantage. The other teams up there, they’re getting some training in, but they’re going to wear thin,” Dueck recalls Sawicki saying.
“He just held this really great space for us and just turned what was like a pretty big unknown and uncertainty into an opportunity,” Dueck said. “And then from that opportunity, we were able to springboard.”
And then there’s the increasing calls from rights groups, including some in Canada, calling for a boycott in Beijing to protest reported human rights abuses against the Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs in China.
In 2014, Dueck didn’t know whether his luggage would arrive. In 2022, the arrival of the Games themselves are in question.
“There’s a lot of things happening in the world and I feel that my life and experiences really prepared me well to be there to hold space with the athletes and the teams as we venture into the unknown,” Dueck said.
Dueck, 40, was born in Kimberley B.C., but currently resides in Vernon, B.C. In addition to the Sochi gold, the skier won downhill silver in 2014 as well as silver in sitting slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics.
WATCH | What to expect from Dueck as chef de mission:
He says he was approached then about his willingness to boycott the Sochi Games due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and his reaction still stands now.
“If I compete in the games, I have an opportunity to inspire some change through my life and actions. And if I don’t, then that opportunity is gone.”
And while Dueck says the treatment of the Uyghur people in China breaks his heart, the idea of a boycott is not relevant.
“I think it’s important that the Canadian government has taken a position. I think it’s important that other national governments take a position. I think it’s important that the United Nations make this a priority as the truth of the matter needs to be seen and heard,” Dueck said.
“I don’t think it’s the position of our athletes to boycott the games, and I’m not sure if that’s going to have a significant effect on the Chinese government in their actions right now.”
Eyes on the prize amid pandemic
Meanwhile, as COVID-19 continues to rage across the world, athletes remain challenged to find training time and space.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee continues to take guidance from national health offices as well as top doctors to help inform training programs with just 365 days to go.
“Being diligent to the guidelines that are being put in place, that obviously has created some restrictions for our ability to travel and compete at this time. But when we’re allowed and where we’re allowed, we’re fully maximizing those opportunities,” Dueck said.
Beijing hopeful Mark Arendz, an eight-time Paralympic medallist in Nordic skiing, said knowing the Paralympics were around the corner has helped him through the pandemic.
“It has been reassuring throughout the past year to keep my focus on the start of the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, acting as a steadfast anchor and point of reference. A point where I can always look towards and direct myself despite the surrounding chaos. Now the goal comes into greater focus, being just one year away,” Arendz said.
1st to land backflip on sit ski
In addition to his trio of medals, Dueck also lays claim to being the first person to land a backflip on a sit ski. The idea began as an uncertainty — almost a joke — soon after he first broke his back in a skiing accident in 2004.
After medalling in Vancouver, those whispers started to become reality. It took less than a year before Dueck stuck the back flip, which he says rivals the feeling of winning gold — though the medal was more celebration, while the backflip was relief.
Now, Dueck’s role as chef de mission is to guide today’s generation of the athletes as it jumps from the proverbial plane into the Beijing Paralympics.
“[My job is to be] a champion, a cheerleader, and the one that helps them to define and set the mission and the vision for the entire team that’s going to represent Canada at the Games in Beijing,” Dueck said.
Already one year out, there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the 2022 Paralympics. But that’s nothing new to Dueck.