A&E » Arts

Grudge Match 2010



He laughed at danger once, now Pete Crutchfield is laughing all the way to the ultimate rematch

Who: Pete Crutchfield, Charlie Viracola & Dylan Rhymer

What: Comedy Performance benefit

Where: Garibaldi Lift Co. (GLC)

When: Tuesday, April 13

Tickets: $15

Defining the soul of Whistler is a subjective undertaking, but I’d like to step up and put an offer on the table: injury comebacks.

The exceptional, determined individuals who refuse to let any injury – no matter how life altering – stand in their way.

Ask anyone around these parts and I’ll bet you 10 to one they can name a fellow local who has broken his or her back! Query further and you’ll most likely find most of the broken are not only still walking around, but have resumed ski touring, snowmobiling, hitting airs and dropping in, maybe not to the same extent as before, but to an extent that still warrants tourists reaching for their cameras.

Trust me. My roommate is one of them.

In other locales injuries are life altering in a different fashion. A twisted knee, broken ankle, or cracked vertebrae can mean game over. True Whistler folk, may be slowed down temporarily, but eventually they’ll find the ways and the means to speed up again.

That’s Pete Crutchfield’s story, anyway.

Flashback eight years ago. April 21, 1996. Local bartender/ski bum Crutchfield dropped into a steep chute on Whistler Mountain, took six turns, and then has to rely on the accounts of observers to finish the story.

Caught an edge, ligaments tore in his knee. A weaker skier would have tumbled at that point, but in an ironic twist, Crutchfield’s expert ability, honed since the age of three and celebrated by all who knew him, instinctively tried to hold things together. He hit a death cookie and projected himself into a rock, eventually coming to rest "submarined" under the snow. Ingenuity by a skiing cohort dug out the space in front of his face so he could breathe, but suspecting a serious spinal injury didn’t move him. Her suspicion was correct.

When he came to he remembers his hands being so cold. Why were his hands so cold? He begged the rescue crew to warm them up.

Crutchfield’s cold digits indicated the onset of paralysis due to his cracking the C6 and C7 vertebrae in his neck. It would result in partial quadriplegia.

Partial is a key word in the equation. Misconception-busting Crutchfield moves himself around in a wheelchair with his arms and is able to walk with the use of crutches – the payoff of hard-fought rehab. Plus spinal injuries are like snowflakes, he quips. No two are alike.

What drove him the most was the goal that he would be on the hill in a year. No, not up and down for a token sightseeing gondola ride, but on the hill strapped into a pair of skis. He kept it in his sights despite the patronizing smiles he got from those uninitiated to the capabilities of the true Whistlerite.

And wouldn’t you know, he pulled it off. Came in three weeks under the deadline, in fact.

Partial quadriplegia. One year short of three weeks. Skiing.

Of course he didn’t come in at the same cornice-dropping level.

"The first day was really brutal," he admits. "There was a lot of falling, slapping myself around, but I kept trying for the next three years."

But the rules had changed from his pre-crash days. Practice no longer made perfect since the muscles were no longer fully under his control.

"It wasn’t working," he says. "I was up there one day and I started to realize that I was starting to not like skiing anymore. I didn’t want to go up on the hill. It was a chore. So that’s when I decided to change things."

A loyalty to his two plank passion had initially convinced him that he wouldn’t enjoy sit-skiing, but Crutchfield changed his tune, deciding that if he ever wanted to experience the same speed, the same skill, the same thrill, he would have to change the equipment.

It was either that or give up skiing forever.

So there was only one choice.

And it proved to be a great choice. Through the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program, Crutchfield was introduced to sit-skiing and has since pursued it with innate fervour.

And like any true Whistlerite undaunted by injury, he’s vowed to take things to the next level. There are six more seasons until Vancouver and Whistler host the world for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games and Crutchfield intends to be there.

Step one, however, is acquiring top of the line gear suitable for a contender. He’ll have to acquire what’s known in the industry as a "mono-ski," which comes in at about $5,000, give or take.

And that’s where the comedy comes in.

Although Crutchfield is undeniably a Whistler local at his core, and visits several times a month to train with the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program, he is currently residing in Vancouver, describing his occupation as "self-unemployed" writer. There’s a book and a buzz-generating TV script in the works.

There’s also his burgeoning career in stand-up, or rather, sit-down comedy.

The irony isn’t lost on Crutchfield.

"I just basically went out and did it," he says with an easy grin. "It’s one of those things I’ve been thinking about forever and I just thought it was kind of funny, a guy in a wheelchair doing stand up."

He’s not a gimmick comic. Though the paralysis is unavoidable subject matter – he jokes about a sudden lust for figure skaters, women whose goal in life is ‘to do a quad’ – it’s not all he’s got.

He currently performs one to four nights a week in Vancouver and has a couple of bookings in Montreal clubs under his belt. And he’ll take the mic at the GLC this Tuesday, warming up the crowd for perennial Whistler comedy performer Charlie Viracola and veteran Vancouver comic Dylan Rhymer. The event is a benefit performance for the purchase of the Olympic-calibre gear needed to start Crutchfield on the road to contenderdom, ending in what could prove the ultimate grudge match. An Olympic legend in the making.

"That’s the reason I’m going so hard for it," says Crutchfield. "I just thought how cool that would be to compete on the same mountain that I broke my neck on. Show the mountain who’s boss," he says grinning, the spectre of podium glory hanging over his words.

"And because I love this town," he adds. "It would just be so great."

Tickets for Pete Crutchfield’s comedy night benefit on Tuesday, April 13 at the GLC are $15. Doors open at 7 p.m. with the comics slated to begin at around 9:30 p.m. For more information call 604-905-2220.

Those who can’t make it to the performance but still wish to donate can do so through the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program (604-905-2071).