Jim Harris worked as a ski photographer and writer, for clients including National Geographic, until he was injured while snowkiting in Patagonia fracturing nine vertebra and was paralyzed from sternum down. It took over a week after the injury to reach definitive care where five of his nine broken vertebra were fused. It was an abrupt end not just to his photo and video livelihood, but to his mobility in the mountains too. Admittedly, he felt lucky that the doctor never told him he’d never walk again, as there wasn’t much encouragement to think he would. After his spine fusion, he began to wiggle a toe. Within a few months, muscles in both legs began firing. In the four years since that accident, Harris has transitioned from a wheelchair to walker to cane and continues to challenge the limitations of his disability. It’s unlikely that Jim Harris will return to mountain guiding or expedition photo work; the athleticism he once possessed may be lost forever. However, Harris has continued to push the limitations of his disability via mountain biking, skiing, hiking, and surfing. Today, Jim spends much of his time devoted to his art, which features many of the beautiful mountain landscapes that he has explored.
We recently did a Q&A session with Jim to get to know him better and loved his responses, which demonstrate his resilient nature and positive outlook on life. Here are some of the highlights:
What is Your Proudest Accomplishment To-Date?
Prior to my spine injury in 2014, my concept of self was built on stuff I’d accomplished: awards for photography, working for desirable clients, trips with incredible people to stunning places. After I was paralyzed, it was shocking how quickly those accomplishments felt irrelevant. It’s tempting to just start that cycle all over again, where “relearning to walk after paralysis” substitutes for “skiing first descents on several continents,” but I think I’d be missing the larger lesson. I now no longer view life and learning as conquest to be defeated. Rather, I’m interested in experiencing and deepening understanding of life, consciousness, and the true nature of being.
What is the Most Amazing Place You Have Visited While Skiing, Kayaking or Biking?
Wherever I’ve just come from! Paddling the Grand Canyon and skiing in Antarctica were pretty much just back-to-back experiences of awe and amazement.
How Do You Live a Healthy, Well-Balanced Life?
Learning to cultivate self-awareness of little shifts in mood, energy, and noticing how I feel during and after a meal or activity is the gateway to living a healthy life. Another essential ingredient is caring about myself enough to pay attention in the first place and then to modify my behavior based on what I notice.
Any big things left on your bucket list to still do?
So many! Art shows and work with the adaptive community and places to see and conversations to have.