Para-Cyclist Joshua Pelland prepares for endurance marathon

Josh Pell

For Three Hills resident Joshua Pelland, June 12, 2016 proved to be a dramatic change in the direction his life would take, and in more ways than one.

He was in Squamish BC, facing the challenge of “crack climbing” or rope soloing, ie, by himself, and was already at the top of his climb when something went wrong. At the top of the vertical cliff he fell 65’, landing on his shoulder.

He has no memory of what happened then or for most of the month following and the details provided by the eye witnesses cannot explain the cause of the fall.

Josh was air lifted to the Vancouver General Hospital.

The major injury was that his spine was severed at the T-7 level resulting in what is called “T-7 complete” and has left him paralysed from the chest down.

In his words he also “broke a ton of bones” including leg, ribs, both shoulder blades, had collapsed lungs, and an “aorta dissection”.

After his month in the Vancouver General he was transferred to the Foothills General Hospital for another five to six months.

It was while he was there in Unit 58, the Neuro Rehab unit that he received visits from former patients, and their inspiring stories of their post-accident accomplishments that gave him encouragement of new goals that he, too, could aim for.

Josh says that it was seeing young persons, 13 and 14 showing determination to overcome their handicaps that spurred him to give it everything he had.

It was here that he was introduced to “hand cycling” and he was approached by a volunteer coach of paracyclists to join a training program. This he entered into going three times a week while in rehab.

From Foothills, he was then moved to the Three Hills Hospital where he spent about 1 month while he waited for house renovations to be completed.

By May 2017 Joshua had decided that with winter training having ended it was time for him to test his abilities, mental and physical.

He challenged himself to hand cycle down the Ice Field Parkway, a distance of 144 miles.

It took him 14 hours to do 100 miles, and then there was a bike malfunction that ended that attempt.

Now he is in training for racing and is accepted by “Para-Cycling Canada” as a “development athlete”. He has done 20 races, competed in “nationals” and been racing in Quebec, Saskatchewan, and all over Alberta.

Races can be in the form of “time trials” where he races against the clock, or road races of 40 kms where there may be 10 to 15 participants. His goal is to “push himself as an athlete as far as he can go”.

This goal is defined as being able to compete at the international level for the World Cup and eventually for the Para Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 or in 2024.

There are three levels to be reached before qualifying for the national team. He has reached the first level of “development” which is 35 kms/hr, as an average over 15 kms, which is considered an impressive level for this length of time of training.

He is already participating in racing alongside some of Canada’s top athletes who are world class.

His being able to be involved in this pursuit is because of generous support from friends and family and a very special thanks to the Three Hills Legion Branch 92.

Joshua expressed several times during the interview how important the community support has been to him over these several months.

He wanted to express his apology to any drivers he may have cut off while he rides around town.

The help and encouragement offered by the friends and community is very much appreciated.

Financial support/sponsorship is also most helpful.

The specially designed bikes, including a mid-range used bike to the super competitive models run between $7,000 to $20,000.

On the immediate horizon, Josh is planning to return to the Icefield Parkway on September 14 to do a “super marathon” endurance ride to see how many kms he can do in 24 hours. The goal is to make the trip from Jasper to Lake Louise in 10 hours and then do the return trip. He does not plan to have a sleep time, but will be planning a “food break” every four hours and energy drinks along the way.

Whereas once Josh thought in terms of a career as a Mountain Guide, now he sees himself as being a motivational speaker. He has already had several opportunities to speak at schools and business gatherings. His theme is “Courage, Determination, Unselfishness, and Cheerfulness in Adversity”.

Josh confessed that he is working on a book with several chapters already completed. Appropriately, his working title is “After the Fall: A Journey into Adventure.”

There is no doubt that the Adventure that preceded this “fall” did much to enable him to handle this event.

He began climbing when he was 16 and living in Manitoba, and started out in a climbing gym. Since then he has done climbing in Africa, Britain, Spain and wherever opportunity afforded.

He enlisted in the British Royal Marine Commandos, because it offered the longest (and most thorough) training program, and served “all over the world” from Afghanistan, U.K. and the Middle East. He was in service with them from 2005 until 2011.

He then took up service in “Private Security”. But this does not mean as an officer on duty at some mall. This was in a “protective role” as on board ships at sea or in dock where there was the danger of attacks by pirates.

It was in 2014 that he returned to Three Hills.

Now he is much involved in his own strengthening, spending time with conditioning coaches and cycling coaches 6 or 7 times per week. On a high volume week he can hit 400 kms on the bike.

His is a fascinating and inspiring story. Enough to fill a book and he is only 33. So I guess we will have to wait for that book.