words: Ally Watson
Every non-profit has an origin story, and the High Fives Foundation has one that every outdoor athlete can relate to. It started when Smith athlete Roy Tuscany sent himself 130 feet over a 100-foot jump at Mammoth Mountain in 2006. Roy suffered a major spinal cord injury that season, leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to pursue his ski career, requiring him to spend the next two years in recovery. It was Roy’s direct community through sport, peers, and family that rallied to support his recovery by raising enough funds to allow him to commit the next two years to his healing journey. And with that, High Fives was born.
“The catalyst to start the foundation was to replicate what others did for me,” explains Roy. “So that people in the world can have the same opportunity that I had and can live life to the fullest with a disability.”
High Fives launched in 2009, three years after Roy’s injury. As the founder and CEO of the non-profit, his mission is to focus on preventing life-changing injuries and providing resources and hope to athletes that experience them. Since its inception, High Fives has helped hundreds of athletes from various sports access resources that have been vital to their personal healing journey. The foundation provides financial support, mentorship, a range of healing modalities and adaptive equipment, as well as education and public outreach focused on prevention and recovery.
Roy speaks with unrivaled enthusiasm when referring to the foundation, especially the CR Johnson healing centre. CR Johnson was a lifelong friend and ski hero of Tuscany’s, suffering a traumatic brain injury the same season as Tuscany’s spinal cord injury. The two ended up seeking treatment from the same physical therapist, Ladd Williams, who played an integral role in each of their rehabilitation. At the time, Williams was practicing out of a hospital which both Johnson and Tuscany hated, making a pact that they would one day have a healing space that didn’t smell like a hospital. When CR passed away years later, his parents found a note he had written with five things he wanted to accomplish that year, one being “charity work with Roy”.
After receiving CR Johnson’s note, Tuscany felt it was his due diligence to create a healing center that ultimately, didn’t smell like a hospital. Many people might recognize CR’s name from the Smith x High Fives Foundation collaborative products that honour CR without diving deeper into the impact CR had on the HFF. Located in Truckee, the healing center started as a 600 square-foot space, and is now nearing 10,000 square feet, home to extensive modalities of healing including personal training, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, cold plunge, sauna, and all types of adaptive equipment to aid athletes in participating in outdoor activities.
Smith has been a key partner with High Fives since the beginning, being one of Tuscany’s sponsors since he was 14 years old. He laughs as he begins to calculate the length of his 27-year career with the brand. “Smith is a family and always have been a family to me. They really carry core family values with whom they support,” he says. Smith’s relationship with High Fives runs deep and is not only buttressed by signature products, but also financial support. In Tuscany’s words, “It’s much larger than the collab.”
When working with High Fives, Smith is committed to protection and prevention, education and awareness, the great outdoors, and even better humans. “Since its inception, Smith has been connected to High Fives directly through the snow sports program,” says Sydney Kirby, Smith global snow marketing manager. “While we’ve always donated bike and eyewear products and supported the other sport verticals financially, we’re creating products in 2024 specifically for HFF’s adaptive bike, surf, and fish athletes and hope to help increase visibility across all adaptive sports.”
The HFF has been monumental in building visibility and mentorship in adaptive sport. Starting with a goal to help one person per year, HFF has now helped over 600 athletes, 25% of them veterans, and each and every one of those athletes has been given the tools to rejoin their community. This is materialized through products, adaptive equipment, rehabilitation, and financial aid.
The High Fives 2022 Athlete of the Year recipient, Tyler Turner, says, “High Fives Foundation changed my life by providing grants to help get adaptive equipment, by providing the opportunity for high-level competition in sports I am passionate about, and most importantly by providing an incredible support network and community which I now consider family”.
The Calgary-based Turner is a bilateral amputee and Olympic gold medalist, winning the 2022 para snowboard cross, as well as a bronze in the 2022 para snowboard banked slalom. Not only is he an accomplished snowboarder, but he is also a competitive surfer, avid skydiver, and public speaker.
Turner participated in a HFF surf camp in San Clemente in 2019 after being contacted personally by Tuscany. “I was struggling with coming to terms with my new identity and the many physical and mental struggles that come along with injuries,” says Turner, reminiscing on the surf camp that “was the launchpad into re-finding my passion for competitive sport.”
Turner has been awarded enough equipment grants to train efficiently for high-level sport, and with the help of High Fives, has been successful in continuing life as an athlete. Ty is able to mountain bike, surf, snowboard, sail, and skydive, allowing him to become the first bilateral wingsuit pilot.
“Pursuing adventure sport after traumatic injury and amputation is no easy task,” he says. Tyler may be the High Fives Athlete of the Year, but in no way is he the only adaptive athlete pursuing a multitude of action sports. High Fives grants aid to hundreds of athletes who have experienced life-altering injuries, allowing them to find their way in their new bodies.
“Self-acceptance is tough when you feel like you will never perform at the same level as you did pre-accident,” explains Tyler. “But through the High Fives community, I was able to push beyond what I thought was possible and accomplish goals bigger than I had ever set before my accident.”
It is Tuscany’s goal with High Fives to support athletes from start to finish while building connections with partners that support the process. While Roy was a Smith athlete since almost childhood, working with the brand has always been part of the puzzle for him. Similarly, Kirby mentions, “Funny enough, knowing that Smith worked with High Fives was one of my key drivers for wanting to join the brand in the first place.” Relationships like this are built on similar motivations, and are bottom line, what makes good things happen. Both Tuscany and Kirby speak with immense devotion in regard to HFF, making their commitment to the foundation’s vision clear.
“Everyone should be able to see themselves on the mountain,” Kirby emphasizes. “So we’ve made a serious effort to ensure HFF athletes are featured authentically in our content and on our global athlete roster to better represent all athletes in action sports. Partnerships take work, and we’re working to honor this partnership and its mission daily at Smith–more to come soon!”