Derrick Duncan

People may see my life now and think that I have things figured out, but I am still constantly learning and adapting to the things life throws at me. Living with paralysis is a humbling experience.

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People may see my life now and think that I have things figured out, but I am still constantly learning and adapting to the things life throws at me. Living with paralysis is a humbling experience.

Paralysis doesn’t care who you are, it will put anyone up for the biggest challenges of their life. I have struggled immensely with the simplest of daily tasks and cried through times when I just felt I couldn’t handle it anymore. I have experienced some of the darkest times and brightest times of my life with paralysis and it all started October 25th, 2014.

I grew up an extremely active child, constantly playing and climbing on things. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I picked up a longboard and got introduced to the world of downhill sports. The feeling of flying and the adrenaline that came with it was very addicting. I started to attend skate events around the region and next thing I knew I was traveling the country with my best friends, exploring new mountains and roads to skate. I never had a thought about the future or what I was going to do with my life, it was just living in the “now” and loving every second. 

About a year and a half went by flying downhill. One day me and my friends were skating on a local hill in Galena, Missouri. It’s a road I’ve skated numerous times. We were driving up the hill and I noticed a spring leaking water across the road, but I didn’t think much of it. I started at the top of the run and kicked up right as I went around a sharp corner I saw a slick spot on the road and a truck.

The next thing I remember was waking up on the ground next to the truck with the loudest ringing in my ears and total confusion. I felt my body… and it felt fine, there was no pain immediately; my adrenaline was still pumping.I tried to get up, but nothing was working right. I was so confused as to why I couldn’t get up. I asked a friend to help, and as soon as he tried to move me I could feel that my back was broken. Instantly I just thought, “holy shit, I’m paralyzed.”

Once what was happening clicked in my brain it was like total chaos in my head. I never thought I was going to die, but my immediate thoughts were about how I was going to live.

My friends and the guy who was driving the truck just looked at me as if they were seeing someone die and no one knew what to really do. An ER Nurse just so happened to be driving on the highway and came upon the accident. She went right into action by my side. The nurse held my hand and told me to look towards God and that everything would be okay. That gave me the biggest sense of relief and at that point I felt I'd make it. 

The ambulance showed up about an hour later and I was airlifted to the nearest hospital. When I say it’s a miracle I am here telling this story, I mean it. I found out I had broken my neck at C1-2 and my back at T4-6 and I was paralyzed from the chest down.

Hearing this news as a 21 year old kid was extremely hard to take. It was difficult to see through the negatives, especially those first couple of weeks when I somewhat expected my body to bounce back. I knew I had to take action or my life was going to go downhill fast… and not in a good way.

I worked hard every day in rehab, accomplishing one challenge after another that the therapist would give me. After my positive mind set kicked in, my number one goal was to get back to downhill sports. I began putting in hours of work at a local CrossFit gym and suddenly I was using parts of my body that were useless just months ago. I started volunteering at the physical rehab in town and helping others in my shoes which eventually pointed me to a career path in recreation and social work.

I have also been able to return to downhill sports. A mechanic friend of mine built an adaptive street luge which allows me to experience downhill the same way I did before. I’ve been able to ride roads that I never would have imagined before the accident and I was part of the first ever adaptive category race in Goldendale, Washington on the famous Maryhill track.

I’ve had numerous people confront me with feelings of sadness or feeling bad for me because of my disability, but I see it totally differently. Yes, before my accident I was living one amazing life, but my future looked dim. This accident has opened so many doors for me and allowed me to truly have purpose in this life and doing good for others.

I may not be able to use my legs anymore but it’s given me the opportunity to run with life like never before and I wouldn’t change a thing.