Former free-style skier and coach Mike Shaw now speaks to young workers and employers about safety on the job.—Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News.

‘Listen to your gut’ urges injured skier

Mike Shaw was told he’d never walk again after an accident four years ago, but he defied the odds

When Mike Shaw talks to young people about staying safe in their daily lives and in the workplace, he stresses three things—listen to your gut, speak up and look and think.

Four years ago, the former competitive free-style skier and coach didn’t do any of those things as he demonstrated a ski jump to the young skiers he was coaching and, in his words, it changed his life forever.

Shaw fell doing a routine jump he had landed hundreds of times before and broke his neck. He was told he would never walk again. He was 26-years-old.

But, miraculously, in less than two years he was not only back on his feat, he ran 10 kilometres and even made it back onto skies—albeit not competitively or not making jumps.

While competitive skiing and the aerial flips he once did with ease were now just memories for Shaw—who lives in Lake Country and originally hails from Vernon—he now shares his story and helps advise young people about risk, urging them to be aware of safety on the job.

“When I was 26, I felt I had the world figured out,” he said Friday during a safety conference in Kelowna for employers. “I was wrong. You never plan for a spinal chord injury. Life can be random.”

He said it is possible to handle risk and come out safe on the other side. But you have to be smart about it.

And it’s also important that employers listen to their young workers when concerns about safety are raised.

While he urges the people he talks to to trust in their capabilities, and says we are all capable of whatever we put our minds to with the right planning, preparation and training, we need to be smart about how we deal with risk.

If properly thought out, and with the properly developed skills, he says there is high percentage that tasks that contain a degree of risk can be undertaken safely. But it requires work.

“Safety rules are usually made to keep people safe because someone has already been hurt doing that thing in the past,” he said.

“We can educate kids to know the rules but we must develop a sense of personal awareness in them too.”

That’s where his “listen to your gut” advice comes in.

“That little voice inside will never steer you wrong,” said Shaw. He admits he wished he had listened to his gut moments before his accident. It was telling him there was something wrong that day on the ski slope four years ago as he approached the jump.

He said if young workers have questions or concerns, they should feel encouraged to ask and express them. And their bosses need to be open to that, and to listen, as well as acknowledge their workers needs and provide solutions.

Earlier this year, Shaw spoke at the annual North Okanagan Labour Council’s Day of Mourning in Kelowna, an event held to remember workers lost on the job.

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