The perpetual forward motion of Paralympian Tyler Turner

Snowboarder overcame injury, addiction, to conquer Para world

Tyler Turner posing with his snowboard
Tyler Turner lost both his legs to a 2017 skydiving accident. He just double-medalled at the Beijing 2022 Paralympics. 

Tyler Turner likes to live on a razor’s edge, and four-and-a-half years ago, a mysterious accident cost him his legs.

Thus began an arduous journey to a pair of Paralympic medals, but it was one that started with chronic pain, depression, and drug addiction. The daredevil was in hell.

It was on September 4, 2017 when Turner jumped from a plane thousands of feet from the ground – a typical day for the skydiving instructor. Turner inexplicably lost consciousness mid-air shortly after jumping from the plane, shattering both his legs upon impact.

In an unreleased short-form documentary titled Sixty Seconds, detailing Turner’s accident and rehabilitation, he laments lacking memory of the incident and remains without a convincing theory on what went wrong.

His right leg was almost immediately amputated from below the knee, and the left over a year later.

“I didn’t want to live my life as an amputee,” said Turner, on a Wednesday video call. “At the very start, my motivation was pretty much zero.”

The drugs managing his physical pain proved emotionally damaging. Even as his body improved, the mind continued to go wayward. His addiction to adrenaline was replaced with one arguably more dangerous.

“These drugs, they sink their talons into you,” said Turner of his prescribed painkillers. “They do a really good job of numbing the pain. They don’t numb emotions, though.”

To mask his despair, he felt an obligation to put on a brave face in front of his loved ones – a task more draining than a full day of mountain climbing for Turner. He hated being a burden to others.

Six months after the incident, the Campbell River, B.C., resident was still unable to walk and was stuck with his wheelchair. Ironically, he started to find his footing in rehab once his second leg was amputated.

“It allowed me to reinvent myself and find my identity again,” said the Paralympian. “After having my second leg amputated, I knew there was no doubt I’d be able to get back to doing the sports that I love to do and find the identity that I used to have.”

When advising other athletes who were traumatically injured in adulthood, the Canadian gold medallist recommends incremental goal setting combined with patience.

“You have to put your head down and do what you can do that day,” said Turner. “Just perpetual forward motion. If all you can do that day is roll over then hit that goal. Apathy is a killer.”

Turner made his Paralympic debut earlier this month in Beijing, winning gold in snowboard cross and bronze in banked slalom.

He hesitates to assume that future Paralympians can relate to his story, but he hopes it can spark conversations around the monumental struggles that amputees face and encourage them.

“It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to be a ruthless battle to get there. Just keep moving forward.”

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Posted: Mar 24 2022 8:43 pm
Filed under: Amateur Parasports Sports Winter Games