Jason Sauer is an adaptive ski racer. As a double above-knee amputee, three factors have been instrumental in his rehabilitation success: sobriety, returning to sport and getting new legs. Intertwined, these enabled him to take a new perspective on life and aim for a new level of sports performance. This is the second part of Jason’s story. Read the first part here: A life redefined.
Getting clean and sober
Drug use creates a fun and euphoric effect on users. For Jason this developed into dependence and substance abuse which was exacerbated after losing his legs. His drug use became a coping mechanism – a poor way (he says now) to attempt to deal with the depression he went through.
By engaging in a 12-step fellowship and program, returning to snowsports and gaining prosthetic legs, he experienced that life could be fun – even as an amputee.
“Life became too good to squander on drugs.”
~ Jason Sauer
The adaptive race is on
Jason confesses that he got a little obsessed with racing. After sit-skiing for 6 weeks, he went in his first race in February 2012. He finished mid-field. Since then he has progressed to a racing ski-bucket, fitted tightly and moulded to him. His race points are improving but he still seems to finish mid-field.
Jason pursued racing from January 2012 until the 2016 Australian summer – ten winters in five years. He went to four different World Cup para-bobsled races and world championships, racing in Lillehammer, Oberhof and St Moritz.
Jason suggests most adaptive ski racers need to be seven to eight years on the circuit before they are a podium threat at World Cup or Olympic Games level. Few make it to the top in three to four years.
Five years of ski racing has cost Jason $100,000. Sometimes he gets discouraged at the time and money invested knowing there are still two to three more years required to achieve his goal. He’s hoping to be a contender in the 2022 Games in Beijing.
Finding his feet – with new legs!
Getting prosthetic legs fitted is quite a process. Prostheses involve wearing ischial containment sockets that go right up into the groin area. A prosthetist in the hospital made Jason his first legs that were very painful to wear. Later a specialist in double above-knee amputees at the Hanger Clinic in Oklahoma created new legs that were much more comfortable and pain free as far as sockets go.
Jason started on training or stubbie legs. It takes quite an effort to use them, gradually increasing the leg height and adding ankle weights. After a year he had microprocessor knee units fitted. These allow knee bending movements. Gait training came next and Jason attended an annual boot camp at Hanger Clinic with other amputees, sharing stories and practising walking.
After a year in stubbie legs, Jason had three years in full-length legs. Changes in his body volume meant the sockets became ill-fitting and painful. This forced him back into a wheel chair for a few months before osseointegration (OI) surgery.
Osseointegration involves the insertion of rods into the residual limbs. When these integrate with the bone it allows for a simple and quick connection between the stump and the lower prosthesis, enabling greater control of movement.
Whilst OI increased his mobility, it set Jason’s ski racing back. Recovery from surgery took longer than expected. So, Jason spent more time in his chair while healing and missed the northern hemisphere winter. Twelve months on, Jason still has considerable pain. He wears his tall legs for level terrain or covering long distances. His stubbie legs are his version of “four-wheel driving” legs – better for snow, ice and undulating terrain.
The resources challenge
At this stage, it seems like Jason’s next challenge is not on the race course. It is in financing his training. The aim is to raise enough money to support him through the training necessary to get closer to that podium.
Jason says it is akin to a midlife crisis. He has fallen in love with the ski lifestyle and his engagement with the adaptive ski racing community. However, he recognises he may need to accept it as a stepping stone rather than a career. There is nothing else he wants to do though.
Sponsorship could be an option. There have been limited opportunities to date. Co-contributions to development squad fees, provision of equipment and discounted access to resorts/lifts have been good but not sufficient in the longer term.
Support with the national development squad is tiered over three levels. His aim – to reach podium potential, and gain tier two support. That would pave the way for him to re-join the team.
- Tier one: Free ride (podiumed at an event)
- Tier two: Co-contribution (podium potential)
- Tier three: International development
Jason receives financial support for his lifestyle and sports needs. The Queensland government assist on the lifestyle front. They recently provided him with a brand-new purpose-built apartment near the Sunshine Coast. It is wheel-chair accessible and affordable. After five years living out of suitcases and sharing rooms, a place to call home was something Jason needed for his own sanity and stability.
They also provide funding to the tune of $15,000 per limb, every three years to assist with the expenses brought by prosthetics and associated equipment. Knee units can cost $40,000-$90,000 AUD.
On the sports front, Jason acknowledges the support received for his ski racing. He appreciates the support he has had from The Able Management Group, Bright Chalet, Dean Shepherd, Hoys Skis, Mt Hotham Resort Management Board, Snow Monkey and Swindlers. He is also grateful for The Bird Cafe, The General, Mt Hotham Skiing Company and Zirky’s in making him welcome.
What’s missing that would make a difference?
Financial support would make a difference for Jason but this presents a dilemma. He says that to gain sponsorship support or to be marketable, to make skiing self-sustaining – racing and Para-Olympics are the only way. Many able-bodied skiers that are into big mountain and non-Olympic activities seem to attract sponsorship. However, this is not so for adaptive skiers. Attracting the necessary sponsorship or becoming a marketable commodity requires race results. The issues is that it is in the lead-up to this, that Jason needs support.
Jason is a prime example of how sport brings communities together and supports physical and mental health. To help him continue with his training, he has set up a crowdfunding site where all donations of $2 or more are tax deductible. If you know of a business or benefactor who is interested in supporting sports people like Jason, please share this link with them: Support Jason Sauer
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