Quality of Life Spotlight: High Fives Non-Profit Foundation

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on June 24, 2022 # Quality of Life

bowhead bikeEven after a 2006 skiing accident left Roy Tuscany with a burst fracture of his T12 vertebrae, he never wavered from the sport he loves. He worked hard to remain positive during his rehabilitation and found joy in connecting with others through the simple act of giving a high five. Touched by the support he received, he wanted to pay it forward to others.

Three years after his spinal cord injury, Tuscany founded the High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit based in Truckee, California, dedicated to raising funds and awareness for athletes who have experienced a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in outdoor action sports. High Fives focuses on providing grants and access to participate in sports such as surfing, skiing/snowboarding, motorsports, fishing and mountain biking.

“[Roy] wanted to educate others on mountain safety and awareness and help those who are facing similar life challenges by offering financial, physical and mental/emotional support, and encourage these individuals to get back out there and live life to the fullest,” says Ally Karacozoff, High Fives’ grants coordinator.

In 2020, High Fives received a $25,000 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grant to purchase a Bowhead Reach, a top-of-the-line adaptive electric mountain bike and develop a pilot study for an athlete tracking initiative. The grant impacts the more than 490 High Five athletes, three-quarters of whom live with a spinal cord injury, and over 870 family members and caregivers.

“High Fives’ overall goal with this grant funding was to improve the quality of life of our athletes living with spinal cord injuries by providing free and innovative exercise opportunities, verifying the efficacy of our program services through evidence-based and data-driven methods and fostering a supportive, close-knit community for individuals with spinal cord injuries,” says Karacozoff.

The bike is stored at the C.R. Johnson (CRJ) Healing Center in Truckee, a 6,000-square-foot wellness facility next to High Fives’ headquarters, where injured individuals can receive alternative recovery and rehabilitation therapies. The center averages 400 visits per month and nearly 500 personal training sessions since the start of this year. Over 50 athletes experienced the innovative technology of the Bowhead bike on local trails in 2021.

bowhead bike“All [High Fives] athletes who are either in the area or can travel to the CRJ Healing Center have free use of the Bowhead bike, facilitated by our certified personal trainer and High Fives peer mentors,” says Karacozoff. “High Fives athletes with spinal cord injuries have traveled from all over the country to visit the CRJ Healing Center, and many took the opportunity to try mountain biking on the Bowhead bike we received with funds from the Reeve Foundation. It has been incredible witnessing the joy this brings to each individual.”

Soon after the initial bike purchase, High Five bought additional Bowheads in response to the positive feedback they received from athletes. Last year, the organization held two adaptive mountain bike camps, each with roughly 30 High Fives athletes, ranging from beginners to advanced riders. Participants spent the day exploring the mountain, and the camps helped athletes build new skills, improve endurance and strengthen their athletic endeavors. Five additional camps are scheduled for this summer.

“These days are filled with fun, friendly competitions, achieving personal goals and so many high fives. We are fortunate to be headquartered in a beautiful place that begets an active lifestyle, with trails just begging to be discovered on wheels,” says Karacozoff. “We pride ourselves on building sustainable, symbiotic relationships with like-minded organizations, and this permits us to host these safe, incredible events.”

High Fives has cultivated strong connections with several local resorts. Sky Tavern Resort in nearby Reno, Nevada, recently widened one of its trails to be more accessible to adaptive athletes and renamed it the High Fives Trail.

“All it takes is for the team to load up the Bowhead bike into a trailer and haul it a short distance to give athletes with spinal cord injuries the opportunity to immerse themselves in awesome outdoor recreation. It feels like the bike puts a smile on someone’s face daily,” says Karacozoff.

One High Fives camp participant with a C6 level spinal cord injury stated, “I no longer felt any limitations of my disability, and it was just man and bike like it should be. I was able to push myself as hard as I chose, and I was no longer restrained by what a wheelchair would allow. It was up to me how fast and how hard I wanted to ride. Absolute freedom!!”

Grant funding was also used to facilitate a pilot program with eight local High Fives athletes to help them define and reach a quarterly athletic goal. The athletes established baseline fitness levels and mental wellness, collected through an online survey, then worked with the CRJ Healing Center personal trainer at least twice a week to reach their goal. After three months, a follow-up survey was completed and analyzed for changes in knowledge, skills, behavior and health status to assess the program’s efficacy in improving the quality of life of individuals with spinal cord injuries.

“The program was a great success. It helped us build a higher level of connection with the athletes, and it expanded the capacity for data-driven program services at CRJ exponentially,” says Karacozoff. One athlete with a T10 level injury who participated in the pilot program successfully landed a frontside and backside 360 while snowboarding after just two months of consistent personal training. Another athlete with a T10 level injury passed her goal of sit-skiing five runs independently in one day by skiing ten runs in one day.

An athlete who reached his goal of riding 5,000 vertical feet on a non-electric bicycle stated, “Achieving this was a major step in achieving my new dreams as I navigate my new normal as a C4 spinal cord injury survivor.” With the pilot program’s success, the organization has expanded the initiative to all High Fives athletes.

High Fives staff also used grant funding to create a mental recovery resources infographic that highlights the importance of prioritizing mental health and includes local Truckee-Tahoe and national recovery and support resources. The mental health resource ties in with the CRJ Tracking initiative and is a program the organization hopes to expand.

“By witnessing what our athletes with spinal cord injuries have been able to accomplish during this grant period, we have learned the power of focus and goal-setting and the unbreakable bond of this tight-knit community,” says Karacozoff. “As far as future implications, this experience has been incredibly motivating, inspiring us to continue our mission of preventing life-changing injuries and providing resources and hope if they happen.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.