Jason Sauer had his legs amputated in 2011. One day he was walking, skiing and snowboarding – the next his life was to be redefined as he faced the prospect of losing his limbs. Uncertainty and challenges followed, as well as many life lessons. His unapologetic story is one of courage and determination, retold here in two posts.
When you meet Jason, you encounter a down-to-earth guy with a pragmatic approach to the way his life is unfolding. He races in a sit-ski and is seen tearing across the slopes at Mt Hotham. With that energy and enthusiasm comes a somewhat self-deprecating style with a bit of larrikin thrown in.
He says, “I don’t know if I’m a ski bum pretending to be a ski racer or if I’m just a low budget ski racer who presents like a ski bum”.
The challenge of life without legs
Since becoming an amputee, Jason has had good days and bad. Overall, he seems to be successfully dealing with the complications of physical and emotional rehabilitation that follow bilateral limb amputation. These include coming off pain medication and facing the frustrations of life without legs away from his favoured snowsports.
Jason lost his legs following a heroin overdose in Canada on Christmas Day 2010. Despite surgical procedures to try and get the circulation back to his lower extremities, his legs were removed to save his life on 2 January. He spent two months in a Canadian hospital before returning to Australia for more hospital time.
Saved by snowports
When he left Canada, Jason was disgruntled and angry. He got rid of his snowboard and ski gear – selling it or giving it away.
When people suggested that he could learn to ski in a bucket, he rebuffed them with, “Get lost! Skiers have legs.”
However, getting back into snowsports was to be his saviour.
In 2011, through wheelchair basketball, Jason met someone who had done some sit-skiing. He said it gave him a real freedom and he had no mobility issues when he was skiing. That was enough to open the door for him to consider skiing again.
Reawakening an old passion
From then on, opportunities presented themselves for Jason to re-engage in snowsports. He was invited to learn to bobsled in Park City (Utah) with a formal driving school through the FIBT (International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation).
In Park City, Jason spent the first week learning to bobsled and skeleton (single rider on a small sled in the prone position). In the second week, he had a sit ski lesson and fell in love with it.
Jason bought a sit ski straight away and skied the rest of that winter there. He joined the National Ability Centre (NAC) competition team for adaptive skiers and started racing in late February.
That first trip to the US was pivotal in his rehabilitation. The toll of coming off the pain meds had seen Jason resume his dependency. So when he left Australia, he was dope-sick and in a wheelchair, depressed and grieving. He returned clean, sober and with a new pair of legs.
A prosthetic company in Oklahoma put him in some prosthetic legs. It was a beautiful thing. He learnt to walk and ski, and had a romance without his legs. For Jason, life started again in Park City.
How it all began
When he was in primary school, Jason was introduced to skiing by his Austrian-born father. He skied with his father and brother for five days every year. Those connections and the annual ski trip lay the foundation for his passion for skiing and the mountains.
Later, Jason left school to do a plumbing apprenticeship. He did four seasons at Mt Buller: two working with resident plumbers; two in ski hire. During this time, he caught the bug of the ski lifestyle – enjoying the on-snow activity by day and the partying of the après-ski scene at night.
He says, “I was young, a stoner and a partier”.
From 1995 to 2007, he struggled with substance abuse and trying to achieve sobriety. He spent time away from the ski industry as part of this intention. He had some success with it but in 2007 returned to the ski scene. In 2008, he went to Big White in Canada for a holiday and stayed on for the season. He also returned to the drug scene. His substance abuse resumed, resulting in his taking strong opiates and heroin that led to his overdose.
Life lessons learned
Jason has not only returned to snowsports, he is back with enthusiasm and determination. He says his life is reasonably good most of the time. He loves ski racing which gives him a great way to meet others who are injured as well. Adaptive ski racing had been wonderful for his self-acceptance as an amputee. It also means that life can be fun again.
When asked about advice for others Jason refers to a line from Desiderata by Max Erhmann (1952):
Take kindly the counsel of the years
As a youth, he says he could not be told things and had to learn from his own mistakes. He acknowledges that while some people can use drugs recreationally and have it not affect their lives, he has a very addictive nature. He reflects:
Even if you make some bad decisions, there is always an opportunity to stop and make the most of what’s left rather than ride it all the way to the grave.
Next week: See what Jason aspires to in the snowsports world.