Tyler Turner could be considered your typical Western Canadian guy.
Born in Saskatchewan and raised in Alberta, he fell early and hard for Western Canada’s rare combination of winter and summer sports, transitioning seamlessly from a youth of outdoor recreation to an adulthood funded by the mountains and skies themselves. As a 20-something, he made a living instructing skydiving or working on the golf course or local brewery when the grass was green. When it snowed, he’d relocate and get work at a ski hill. Simply put, he was living the dream.
But the dream nearly came to a tragic end when Turner suffered a catastrophic skydiving accident. Like a page torn from the middle of a book, the 60-second period that forever changed his life is missing from his memory.
“We honestly don’t know what happened,” he says of the fateful landing. “It was probably a lot of factors, definitely a mistake. There could have been some environmental factors too, but it’s five-and-a-half years later and I still don’t know. I made a conscious choice in the hospital to give up trying to figure it out, but I still really wish I knew what happened.”
After days in a coma, Turner came to and took stock of his body for the first time: his right leg was gone, his left leg “essentially blown to pieces…like shattered glass,” he had multiple spinal cord fractures, a broken pelvis, traumatic brain injuries, broken teeth, and he’d bitten through his tongue. “The list gets long,” he says, “but I usually just say everything from my belly button down and my head.”
Over the next two years and one day, Turner worked tirelessly on his recovery with the experts at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver. Some 18 months in, with treatment of his left leg yielding poor results, he decided to amputate.
“That was a choice to make my life better, and I was sure of it,” he says. “I had my right leg as a reference. It had a prosthetic, everything including my pelvis was healing, I was going to be able to walk, but my left leg was going to keep me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was the best day of my life going into that surgery… best day of my life coming out. I was so happy. The nurses were confused, but I was like let’s get life going here.”
After grinding through months more of recovery and struggling to unhook the claws that the opiate-based medication had sunk into his psyche, Turner finally returned to his passions, starting with the very same one that claimed his legs.
“I got back in the sky pretty quick and that was a massive boost,” he says. “I got that community back, you know. There were so many things checked off the list immediately. I mean, I was just safely getting out, safely floating down with my friends and that was good, but I knew there was room for progression there.” Turner has since become the only bilateral amputee to fly a wingsuit.
Next came the return to surfing, again accomplished with the help of friends there to push him onto his first wave. Turner knew, on the other hand, that with the unavoidable shock to the prosthetics, getting back on a snowboard would be even tougher. The idea was to hold hands with his friend and ease down the hill for the first run, maybe hit the bar afterward, but they hadn’t slid four feet before Turner released his friends’ hands and took off. “I was doing 70 km/h down the hill, wide open, riding like the day before I lost my legs.”
It didn’t take long for word to spread of the double amputee with an unstoppable urge to shred, and soon Turner found himself competing in, and winning, snowboarding competitions. “My first ever race was the World Cup during extreme Covid times and we pulled it off and I won,” he says, recalling his 2021 trip to Italy. “So, I think I turned some heads.”
The next season, he turned thousands more, taking home two gold medals and a bronze at the 2022 World Para Snow Sport Championships in the men’s team event, snowboard cross and banked slalom, respectively. The Canadian guy was officially back doing Canadian things,
this time at an elite, international level.
He’s also been sharing his inspirational journey via a non-profit organization called the High Fives Foundation in an effort to help other injured athletes. “I just want to continue being a part of that and getting adaptive athletes, people who’ve been injured, out doing athletics and trying new things,” he says. “It’s pretty cool to be able to see the excitement of people who thought they lost everything or thought they’d never do their thing, and get them back in the water surfing or back on a mountain bike, or fly fishing or sit skiing or whatever they do.”
Today, when he’s not traveling for competitions, Turner and his partner live on their sailboat, currently anchored off the coast of Mexico. You can learn more about his ongoing career as a motivational speaker and professional athlete at tylerturner.ca.
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Photography by Kayleen Vanderree
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