Jeremy McGhee
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Paralyzed Athlete Jeremy McGhee Ready to ‘Drop In’ on Bloody Couloir

April 30, 2012, Judd

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Skiing expert-only, double-black diamonds, dropping in on double-overhead surf and racing down steep mountain bike terrain at Mammoth Mountain are things most of us don’t do.

Never mind that Cardiff resident Jeremy McGhee does all of this without the use of his legs—he’s got a much bigger challenge ahead of him.

Later this summer, McGhee will try to both climb and ski Bloody Couloir, one of the most fearsome backcountry routes in the Eastern Sierras.

“Bloody is a special peak. It can snow year-round, it’s steep and gnarly and no joke,” says McGhee, referring to the 2,600-foot vertical ascent with an average 43-degree pitch.

McGhee will attempt to climb Bloody on his own power. A teaser clip of him training for the brutal ascent and fearful descent will premier Tuesday, April 3, at La Paloma Theater. The teaser will follow a showing of the 2011 Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival’s Best Movie and Cinematography winner, All.I.Can.

Proceeds of the film benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Drop-In Film Project.

“I’ve always wanted to conquer Bloody with my friends but was never able to do it because of my injury; it’s one of the few times I realize that I’m limited being in a chair…that’s how this project got started,” says McGhee, who was paralyzed after being blindsided by a car while riding a motorcycle on September 30, 2001.

A mere six weeks after his accident, with broken ribs, McGhee, a former semi-pro boarder cross ski racer, was in Breckenridge, Colo., learning how to sit-ski on a monoski.

Within six months of being paralyzed, McGhee was also surfing ocean swells on an adapted surf kayak.

Clearly, McGhee is not paralyzed by fear.

“I still have a healthy amount of fear, but that fear gets re-channeled as preparation and concentration. The fear is still there, but I push past it,” he says.

McGhee admits the element of fear will gnaw at him at Bloody, especially on the descent. Never mind that he’ll have to do approximately 2,600 pull-ups for the ascent with no help and that this event will, as he says, be the most physically demanding of his life.

“Skiing down the first hundred yards will be a mental challenge. It’s a gnarly steep drop. I still get freaked dropping in on runs that steep,” says McGhee.

Before he started surfing the easily accessible Cardiff Reef left takeoff, Suckouts, McGhee sometimes surfed the reef breaks of Encinitas. To put-in his surf kayak, McGhee would descend all 134 steps in his wheelchair at Swami’s—backwards.

“Going down steps is second nature,” says McGhee, who learned to master the art of descending staircases in physical therapy. “But when people saw me for the first time going down the steps at Swamis, some of their mouths were wide open, staring in disbelief.”

Now when he surfs Cardiff, although he has a much easier time getting into the water and can do so completely on his own (McGhee drives, assisted by hand controls on his truck’s steering wheel), McGhee says it’s very rare that he’s not assisted by locals.

As for Bloody Couloir, though, McGhee says: “I want to do this completely on my own power. I don’t want my friends to be held back having to carry me.”

The Drop-In film project will eventually be released as a full-feature documentary.

But that’s not the only media project McGhee will star in. A producer from the MTV show The Buried Life, a show about four 20-somethings who combine partying, charity and crossing off items on their bucket list, is pitching a series about McGhee, appropriately called  ‘Drop In,’ to major networks.

The pilot episode will feature McGhee conquering Bloody. If the series gets picked up, McGhee says future episodes will see him traveling the globe pursuing other radical adventures, include biking down one of the most dangerous roads in the world, in Bolivia, a road so steep and long that it traverses different climate zones.

He’ll also dive with great whites on Guadalupe Island off Baja California, surf waves off remote islands in Indonesia, heli-ski the Alps of New Zealand, and more.

Pipe dreams? McGhee doesn’t think so. He’s finally making his dreams come true. Since his accident, he managed a restaurant and worked as a rep for ski apparel companies to make ends meet.

But now his life’s work involves motivational speaking, training and tackling extreme adventures.

McGhee says, “I’m finally realizing my life’s purpose: doing what I love and inspiring people.”

Judd
Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.