Any day on the mountain is a good day. But a few good crashes in rental equipment are enough to make anyone want to rethink their ski goals.
That’s when someone told Tony Schmiesing he should meet Roy Tuscany.
“I got a very long email from an account called ‘Faster Barnacle,’” said Roy. Faster Barnacle is Tony’s blog. “It talked about this guy’s love for life and his goals. And at the end he asked how we could go skiing together. He didn’t ask for funding. He didn’t ask for things. He just wanted to ski.”
Tony was injured in a diving accident when he was in his teens, back in the 80s. He’s lived for over 30 years as a quadriplegic, requiring assistance with every aspect in his life, like changing clothes, eating, and getting around.
But the way he skis – that’s freedom. Skiing is rad, but like all serious athletes, he had in mind new levels he was ready to achieve.
“I said, ‘what I want is to get vert again,” Tony told Roy. “And the funny thing is that when I tell people that, they instantly think I’m talking about walking.” Tony spent his youth as a surfer, a skater and a skier.
Horizontal is the way of the ground. Vert is the opposite of horizontal.
Roy, of all people, knows what its like to get vert.
So with that in mind, and the help of the High Fives Foundation, Tony spent the next years coming very close to vertical.
As a bi-skier, he skis in a specially designed sit ski with assistance from another skier helping to control speed by the use of tethers, 10-feet behind him.
With the specialized seat provided by High Fives, Tony skied many days over the next few years. He and his ski companion, Brian Sheckler, skied the skeeps, but they also dropped into the terrain park.
He notoriously conquered a twelve-foot wall-ride at Alpine Meadows. He took on Squaw Valley’s half pipe. He’s the only bi-skier to do either of those in Squaw/Alpine’s history. Both of those were close to vert, but not quite.
In 2010, boutique belt manufacturer Arcade Belt Co. partnered with the High Fives Foundation on a special project. Together they created an initiative that guides athletes through the complex recovery process after a life-altering injury. The program was called the Arcade Goal Belt Program.
The belt program, which is similar to a karate belt system, rewards High Fives athletes with an Arcade belt containing a new gold star for each milestone achieved.
“We get so much inspiration from these injured athletes as they work through the daunting healing process each of them face after suffering an injury,” said Tristan Queen, Co-Founder of Arcade Belt Co. “The Goal Belt Program seemed like a great way for us to help add structure to the rehab process while also recognizing and celebrating the hard work these athletes are putting in.”
Arcade Belt Co. was featured this week in the Wall Street Journal where their product was the missing link the sports wardrobe.
“Those belts are good enough for professional action sports athletes; they’re good enough for High Fives athletes, too,” Roy said.
So Tony hopped into the program at Goal #3, considering his new seat, the wall ride and the half pipe as previous goals.
“I think I was feeling a little cocky, and in a moment of braggadocio, I just said ‘I want to heli ski Alaska,’” said Tony, laughing at how ‘bananas’ the far fetched request would be.
But High Fives made it happen. Watch the award winning film Edge of Impossible.
So how do you achieve a 5th Arcade Goal Belt if your 4th goal was becoming the first quadriplegic to ski in Alaska?
“You’ve sorta shot your wad at that point,” as Tony puts it.
In a moment of strange backwards mixed-emotional coincidence, the Director of Freeskiing at X Games, Eric Zerrenner suffered a spinal cord injury and became a High Fives Athlete. Very fortunately Eric worked his way back to nearly 100% recovery.
“I said ‘Eric, I have one thing to request from you…’” Roy networked with Eric to bring Tony to X games to become the very first bi-skier to ever take on the 22-foot walls of the Super Pipe. The experience was nothing but extraordinary for everyone in witness.
So at the 2016 Silver Tie Gala, Tony received something more than his last Arcade Goal Belt. Tony received a special X Games Gold Medal – the first of its kind.
So what is next for Tony?
“I don’t know what’s next, I really don’t. Something pretty cool, I’m sure,” said Tony. It’s all about the imagination.