The road that took Curt Minard to PyeongChang for the 2018
Paralympics wasn’t an easy one. He almost died — three times. But he wouldn’t
change it for anything.
| Minard works on his fine motor skills with his right hand at the Foothills Medical Center in Calgary, Alberta, days before having his left hand amputated.
“There’s a reason people like us live through these things,” said the Vancouver, British Columbia, Local 258 member, who competed in snowboarding. “It’s a spiritual thing, but I think some people are chosen to inspire others.”
In 2008, Minard was working as a powerline technician in Invermere, a Rocky Mountain town on the eastern edge of the province. He had only been on the job three weeks when a co-worker’s mistake resulted in Minard getting electrocuted with an amperage of approximately 5 amperes— about 500 times the amount the human body can normally withstand. The electricity surged through his body, burning at 400 degrees Celsius, or 700 degrees Fahrenheit, exiting through both of his hands. That was the first time he almost died.
“Somehow I walked off the truck,” Minard said. “But you could smell the burnt flesh.”
His two other brushes with death came when he was recovering in the burn unit at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre. In between 12 surgeries, Minard got a blood clot in his lung and blew an artery in his left arm, shooting blood about 4 feet across the room.
“That was when it really hit me,” he said of the burst artery, his third brush with death. “That’s when I finally thought, ‘this accident is going to kill me.’”
that time, the Saskatchewan native had already lost his left thumb, but
he was still hoping that he’d ultimately pull through and go back to his
old life, the one where he was a Red Seal journeyman who loved his job;
he loved being the guy who braves the storms and turns the lights back
on. That mix of creativity, adrenaline and teamwork fueled him.
“It’s like building art in the sky,” he said. “I loved that I could sit back and look at what my crew and I created.”
Those same qualities, Minard said, are what helped him eventually recover and compete for Team Canada. But before he’d win any medals, he needed to go through years of physiotherapy and reconcile his life as an amputee.
About two weeks after his artery burst, Minard got the news about his left hand. The nerve damage was too severe. There was no way to regain any functionality. He had two choices: keep the hand, but without any function, or amputate it along with his left wrist (called a below elbow amputation) and regain some functioning with a prosthesis. He chose the latter.
“It took me about a week to decide,’ he said. “I couldn’t look at my arm for weeks.”
That was when he started to spiral into depression.
Things the rest of us take for granted, like tying our shoes, playing catch with our kids and feeding ourselves, were monumental chores for Minard at first. It was impossible to escape the feeling of helplessness.
“Losing my thumb was one thing, but the whole hand was another,” he said. “I struggled a lot. There were a lot of tears.”
Minard was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But with the help of his family and a lot of hard work, he learned to use his prosthesis and eventually regain his sense of self.
“Once I got past the stage of who I was versus who I wanted to be, it got easier,” he said.
Minard’s road to a new life went through sports. A lifetime athlete, he started playing hockey again, practicing four to five times a week. Once he got his skills up, he tried out and was accepted to the Canadian national standing amputee team.
| Minard presented Local 258 Business Manager Doug McKay with a custom-made snowboard in February.
“That was a turning point for me,” he said. “Everyone had a story like mine.”
In 2012, the team traveled to Finland for the World Championship and came home with the gold medal.
“Hearing the national anthem, that was a significant moment. I just thought, ‘Look what I achieved,’” he said. “That was when I realized the disability didn’t own me anymore.”
That win spurred him to switch gears and try another of his favorite sports: snowboarding. He’s only been competing for about three years, but he’s already racked up a considerable medal count, including two gold medals his first time out in 2015, three consecutive first place wins in the Canadian nationals and the bronze in a pre-Paralympic test prior to the PyeongChang Games. He’s currently ranked second overall in the world in the upper-limb category.
The 2018 games, held in March, were the first time that athletes with impairments in the upper-limb could compete in snowboarding (previously, only those with lower-limb impairments could do so). And based on his placement in the World Cup competition order, he ended up being the very first person to take to the slopes in the new category.
“That was really an honor,” he said.
Minard finished in sixth place in snowboard cross and eighth place in banked slalom. For anyone who caught the games on television, they may have seen the IBEW logo on his board, indicating Local 258’s sponsorship. (What they didn’t see was the the IBEW coin he always keeps in his backpack on race days.) For Minard though, the support of his local goes far beyond good luck charms and financial contributions.
“I can’t thank them enough,” he said. “Without Doug [McKay, Local 258 business manager] and the IBEW, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Minard says McKay was at his bedside just two days after the accident.
“We’re just there for him, that’s all,” McKay said. “Curt’s a very nice guy and he’s come a long way.”
McKay says he has a good relationship with BC Hydro, Minard’s employer, which made it easier to work with the company and ensure that Minard got all the support he could, including advocating for him to get the highest quality prostheses, which can cost upwards of CA$80,000.
When Minard decided to move to Vernon, a town about five hours west of Invermere to get a fresh start for him and his family, McKay got the company to help cover the cost. The local also bought him a new induction stove, which uses electromagnetic energy instead of gas or electric heat to make cooking safer.
“Doug’s done so much for me, and for my kids,” Minard said. “They’ve always looked out for me.”
Minard currently works with the apprenticeship program, overseeing about 100 apprentices on training and development as well as mentoring. It’s a benefit for the students, McKay said, to see the reality of the trade.
“I get their respect from the get-go,” Minard said. “I’m very forthcoming.”
He’s also a motivational speaker and has addressed more than 100 audiences, including IBEW locals across Canada. He tells his whole story, not shying away from the PTSD and what it’s like to be in a burn unit, but also how hard work and determination brought him to world championship status.
“In a split second, your whole life can change,” Minard said. “I didn’t get an easy shake, but eventually I had to decide who I wanted to be, and I decided that I want to use my story to inspire others.”
Minard says he never forgets how fortunate he is to have his Brotherhood supporting him. As a show of thanks, he had a snowboard custom-made with the Local 258 logo and an electricity-themed design.
“When I compete, it’s not just me, it’s everyone who’s helped me get there, and that includes the IBEW and Local 258.”