Five Questions: Josh Sundquist

Five Questions - Josh Sundquist

I had the privilege of meeting author, speaker, cancer survivor, Paralympian Josh Sundquist. His new book Love and First Sight is available now. Meet Josh.

How do you define being "in love"?

Well, I got married about a year and a half ago. And Ashley, my wife, was my first girlfriend. So we started dating when I was like 26. And it wasn’t for lack of trying, it was just, I had terrible luck and probably problems with the way that I thought about myself and looked at myself. Whether or not I thought I was worthy of being in a relationship. I knew that I was in love with Ashley—we had been dating for six months or so—and we went on a road trip to New Jersey from Washington DC where we lived to go to an engagement party for one of her friends. Which would ordinarily be an unpleasant sounding thing, that is traveling, driving through traffic, going to a party where you don’t know anyone, like, no one likes that. But I noticed that day that I was really enjoying myself. And the difference was that Ashley was there. So I was doing activities that I normally wouldn’t wanna do, but suddenly they were actually enjoyable and fun and pleasant, and it was because of who I was with. And that’s the day that I thought, “Oh I think this is what it’s like to be in love.” And I guess that’s how I would define it.

What is your greatest fear?

I would say that my greatest fear is some kind of nervous breakdown. Like just having so much anxiety about something or whatever sort of mental illness that leads to just a total dissociation. Now I think the interesting thing is that lots of people have nervous breakdowns and then they get healthy again. But for whatever reason, that sounds really terrifying to me. To sort of be in that space and there’s lots of things I’m afraid of, but I would say that’s the most I’m afraid of.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

[Long pause] That’s a great question. I would have to say being named to the US Paralympic Ski Team in 2006. Because, ya know, I lost my leg to cancer as a child, and I started skiing after I’d lost my leg. It was something I could do as an amputee and I started racing sort of seriously when I was a teenager. And I know that sounds, like, obvious—sounds like the kinda thing that’s like, “Oh yeah, of course! It’s your greatest accomplishment! You went to the Olympics!” But I think that what makes it particularly meaningful is that in most of the years that I was training to try to make the Paralympic team, I didn’t really think I had any shot at making it. Nor did my coaches. [Laughter] So I was more training just because I like—I wanted to look back and not have regrets of like, “Oh, what if I had gone after it? What if I had tried a little harder?” So it’s kinda like—ya know, I was relatively young, this was when I was 19, 20, 21…those sorts of years. And I was like, “Yeah, this is the thing I wanna do right now, I don’t really expect at all to be named to the team, but I’m gonna try as hard as I can.” And so being there on the team and walking into the stadium at the opening ceremony was so meaningful because, perhaps, in a different way than for someone who’s like there in contention to win medals or who is hoping to win a medal or can win a medal, cuz I was like, “There is no chance I’m gonna win a medal! Like, I barely made the team! I’m gonna do terrible, I’m sure in the races relative to the people who win.” So that allowed me to be sort of free to just enjoy the experience and be grateful that I was there and my parents were there and we could just celebrate that together as a family. Which was awesome. And it was meaningful for me and it was meaningful for them especially considering that just twelve years before I had a fifty percent chance to live and cancer and everything. So I think that was a great experience for all of us.

What is the most beautiful thing you have ever experienced?

[Long pause] I really got excited about training for the Paralympics in 2002 when they were hosted here in the US, in Salt Lake specifically. And I watched the opening ceremony as an audience member and I was so inspired when I saw that year’s US Paralympic team march into the stadium. And that image, more than anything else, was what was inspirational to me when I was training. It wasn’t so much about the race specifically or about the other sort of, I don’t know, perks or exciting things that come with being named to a team like that. But it was really just I wanted to experience that moment of walking into that stadium. So, yeah I think coming—you know, you’re lining up with all your teammates and you’re walking through this dark tunnel and all of sudden you walk into this stadium and there’s 30,000 people there, two of whom I know are my parents and I have this US uniform that I always wanted to wear… I think that sight and experience was probably the most beautiful.

What will you miss the most when you’re gone?

Yeah. [Laughs] The thing that I think about often is that I really like super hero movies and whenever I see previews for movies that are like—it’s like a teaser for something that’s gonna come out in two years, I’m like, “Oh man! I really hope I don’t die in the next two years! I would be soooo pissed if I don’t get to see that next Spiderman movie!” [Laughter] But it’s frustrating because at some point I know I will die and there will continue to be awesome action films, ya know, indefinitely…and I will miss all of them. And that bothers me a lot. I really like the—yeah, I guess, I like to think of myself as a story teller, ya know, like I give motivational speeches and I’ve written a few books. And I think—what I find most enjoyable about being alive is sharing in stories, that is experiencing a narrative with other people, with my wife, with my friends, and also then consuming stories, hearing stories, narratives, and probably my favorite narratives are super hero stories in theaters. [Laughs]