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Paralympian aims high in 'Just Don't Fall'

By Robert Trishman

Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Jan. 31 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

"JUST DON'T FALL: How I Grew Up, Conquered Illness, and Made It Down the Mountain," by Josh Sundquist, Viking, 336 pages, $25.95 (nf)

"There are things that are important … and then there are goals."

Josh Sundquist's declaration to U.S. Paralympic ski team coach Paul DiBello summarizes the way Sundquist had approached his life to that point.

In "Just Don't Fall," a true story, first-time author Sundquist takes the reader along on his journey to achieve his goals. Sundquist's is a narrative of how faith, resiliency, persistence and support from others — plus thinking outside the box — are essential to fulfilling life's dreams.

Sundquist has been goal-oriented from a young age, desiring to put his soccer skills to work on a traveling team after he sees a boy at his church wearing a shiny, green uniform.

But Sundquist, at age 9, finds out he has cancer in his left leg and must have it amputated.

He describes in detail the procedures — and pain — he goes through, as well as the support of his family and fellow church members. The disease is a source of much frustration and anger, but Sundquist learns to grow up fast.

His goals change, but his will to accomplish them does not. The road is fraught with setbacks, but he never concedes defeat.

Sundquist enrolls in a local skiing class, and he meets a former coach of the U.S. Paralympic ski team, who tells him he has potential to be a good ski racer. He sees the red, white and blue USA uniform. He decides he wants to be a Paralympian for Team USA.

On his path to that goal, he encounters several obstacles: He struggles in learning how to race on one leg; his mother develops non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; he lacks the funds to train full time; he must deal with a cantankerous coach in DiBello.

But he overcomes the odds. He finds sponsors to finance his training, innovative ways to train, and he keeps his faith and strong relationship with his family.

And he eventually competes for Team USA in the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.

One particular poignant moment illustrates the effect of Sundquist's infectious will to thrive on others.

Sundquist — who is now a motivational speaker — makes his debut as such during his sophomore year of high school. He speaks to middle school students, and the speech seems like a disaster. Afterward, however, a girl comes up to him, hands him a card and says, "Thanks to you I don't need this anymore." The card is for a suicide prevention hotline.

Faith is also a major theme in "Just Don't Fall." Sundquist comes from a devout Christian family. His belief in God, though he questions at times, remains constant. There is a touching, introspective moment late in the book where he affirms that he knows God is real and has a conversation with him while riding up the mountain on a ski lift.

"Just Don't Fall" draws in the reader from the start with Sundquist's youthful wit. He vividly conveys all of his emotions, hopes and fears in a way that will leave the reader cheering for him at every turn. Sundquist's debut as an author has yielded a powerful, motivating story of faith and hope.

Sensitivity rating: Instances of profanity, including the so-called "R-rated" curse word; some sensual talk.

If you go ...

What: Reading of "Just Don't Fall," by Josh Sundquist

Where: Davis County Library, 725 S. Main, Bountiful

When: Wednesday, Feb. 3, 7:30-9:00 p.m.What: Appearance by Josh Sundquist, Paralympics skier and author

Where: Davis County Library, South Branch, 725 S. Main, Bountiful

When: Feb. 3, 7 p.m.

Phone: 801-451-2322

e-mail: rtrishman@desnews.com

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