Uphill from Here
words catherine garrett
photos graham cox
Landon McGauley is a 22-year-old BCIT Journalism student, public speaker, and sit skier. He broke his back in a mountain biking accident at age 15 when he lost control of his bicycle, and has been living in a wheelchair ever since. He competed in the X Games two years ago, and is now a full-time student here at BCIT. The Quesnel native was also the youngest competitor in the mono skier cross-field at the games. Since his injury, Landon has been involved with the High Fives Foundation, an organization that provides injury prevention awareness and resources to injured athletes. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with him and ask him some questions about how the accident changed his life.
Tell us about your accident.
It happened in 2010, on July 4th at Sunpeaks, the ski resort in Kamloops. I was in a downhill mountain bike race. I had ridden the course a ton of times, I was about 100m from the finish line and I crashed, which resulted in a spinal cord injury.
Did it have an effect on your life, both as an athlete and as a whole? How was the adjustment period?
Pretty much everything was different, not one thing was the same. I guess brushing my teeth was not harder, but short of that I had to pretty much relearn how to do everything. I was pretty quick in the hospital though, I was in there only three months but it was a really intense three months. It was all day, long every day, rehab and physio.
What was it like competing at the X Games? Can you tell us about the atmosphere? What were your goals going into the competition?
The X Games were insane, it was something I’ve always really wanted to do, even more than standard ski racing. I never really liked that sort of organized sort of thing. The X Games are all about action sports, which is what I was into. I always wanted to go and compete, so when I finally made it, it was incredible! I was pretty scared for a month or so before, even found myself losing some sleep over it because I knew that on the course there was a 65 ft jump that I was going to have to hit. So [the experience] was intense, but I think a lot of it was the build up, more of the anticipation. Once I was there it was kind of calm and I was able to do what I practiced.
What’s the qualification process like for the games?
I just happened to know some of the right people. I put a couple pictures and videos and other content of me out there hitting some bigger jumps that I was happy with and certain people saw it and invited me. It was sweet. At the end I felt like I was the rookie there, and that people either didn’t know me or didn’t think that I should be there. I think I proved them wrong. At the end of the competition, a guy who organizes the event came over to me and said that he was really impressed and that I was invited back for as long as they were running the event.
What do you hope to accomplish in your skiing career post-BCIT, and even just right now?
Right now I have not ski-raced in two years, and I’m pretty ok with that. Maybe after I’m done school and my life kind of goes that way, I’d go back into it, if not I’m totally happy. I’d love to compete in the X Games again if they run the event again- they haven’t ran my event in the last two years but I just like to ski and have fun.
At the end I felt like I was the rookie there, and that people either didn’t know me or didn’t think that I should be there. I think I proved them wrong.
What originally attracted you to the BCIT Journalism program?
I knew that I wanted to be involved in action sports. Before I hurt myself, I wanted to be an athlete. Then, after I hurt myself, I struggled with how I was going to stay involved with it and then I figured that I could find a way to announce things and stay involved with it through announcing and speaking. This was the most obvious way that I saw to do that, by getting through this program.
Is there a way in which you plan on merging your experience and skills that you are gaining from this program with being a pro athlete?
Yeah. I think more so in the people I’ve met through athletic endeavors. Hopefully they will combine with the skills I’m learning through the journalism program and that will hopefully be my way into the business.
Do you have any role models either in professional sports or the broadcasting industry that you emulate?
With skiing, I’ve obviously had a ton of people I’ve looked up to a lot. I have a good friend, his name is Josh Douick. He is a professional sit-skier from Vernon. He’s a big role model of mine and then guys like Craig McMorris,who is Mark McMorris’s brother, he’s a professional snowboarder but also announces. I like his style and his lifestyle too.
What are your career goals after you are done at BCIT? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
It’s pretty niche right now, but I’d love to be involved in some action sports stuff specifically. There is this guy called Sal Masekela, the host of the Redbull Signature Series, which is an hour-long show all about action sports. I would love to do something like that. That would be the dream and why I got into this program.