When somebody gets hurt, gets sick or needs help, it’s wonderful to see the way a community comes together. Go Fund Me pages spring up. Benefit events fundraise beyond expectations. Support comes pouring in, until one day it trickles to a stop and life has to become its new version of normal for the people affected.
It is that new version of normal that is the hardest part with which to empathize. We can all learn to empathize with sadness and grief. But without ever experiencing it, what is it truly like to empathize with the loss of limbs or the loss of dexterity? What does it feel like to accept that your own home is now inaccessible to your wheelchair?
On one of the best powder days of 2015, Tahoe photographer Jason Abraham was skiing at Squaw Valley capturing photos of a skilled crew in the notorious steeps of the Palisades. After the session, he took his own free run down Main Chute. After dropping into the line he’d scored hundreds of times, Abraham picked up speed and came out of the run faster than anticipated. He caught an edge and was flung on his back. The impact resulted in a spinal cord injury causing paralysis from the shoulders down.
“I’m not even paralyzed, I’m quadrilyzed,” said Abraham.
This new term is the title of a short film by the High Fives Foundation. “Quadrilyzed” premiered in Reno in April. The Foundation supports athletes like Abraham in recovery from major injuries. Abraham used to photograph and promote High Fives Foundation athletes for years before his injury.
“I think my goal was to thank the community and all the people
who supported me through the injury, and the other part
was educating people what it’s like going through a high level spinal cord injury.”
“It’s not easy to look into someone’s life like this and see them struggling with things we don’t even think twice about,” said Roy Tuscany, executive director of High Fives. “Things like needing help taking a shower and shaving. Things like teaching your son how to ski.” The organization has approved nearly $15,000 in grant funding to Abraham since the accident.
“Previous to this project, most of the stuff I worked on was inspirational marketing-type pieces to get people up to the mountains to go skiing or snowboarding,” said Chris Bartowski, who shot and directed the film with Generikal Design. Bartowski said that he shared similarities in Abraham’s Tahoe lifestyle and livelihood.
Before his injury, Abraham had built his business, Elevated Image Photography, and reputation around adventure photography in the area. He continues with commercial and studio photography in tandem with his wife, Kate. Using an app called CamRanger, Abraham can monitor and alter the aperture and shutter from an iPad while Kate holds the heavy camera, controlling the composition. She’s become much more involved in the business.
“Quadrilyzed” brings Abraham on to the other side of the camera.
“We decided to start filming pretty shortly after being back in Tahoe after my initial rehab,” said Abraham. “I think my goal was to thank the community and all the people who supported me through the injury, and the other part was educating people what it’s like going through a high level spinal cord injury.”
The film portrays his life as a ski bum-turned-professional photographer. Kate glows talking about when they fell in love and started a family. But where it truly shines is giving a sliver of perspective – a sliver of empathy – of Abraham’s new version of life as an athlete, photographer and as a father in Tahoe.
“Quadrilyzed” has been accepted into seven film festivals this year. It is available for free at High Fives’ Web site.
For more information on the film or the work of High Fives, visit highfivesfoundation.org. For more information on the photography of Jason Abraham, visit elevatedimg.com.
By Luka Starmer | Photos courtesy High Fives Foundation
Watch the inspiring film “Quadrilyzed”
High Fives Foundation hosts the premiere of its newest BASIC documentary on Oct. 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Woodward Tahoe. See Wet ‘n’ Dirty for details.