Joe Schuckel

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A Race That Continues – In January 1994 I hiked out to very remote beach on Vancouver Island with four of my friends including my brother. We wanted to experience the full moon and big waves while camping for a couple of nights. The usually muddy trail to the beach the night before was rock solid with the very cold, clear weather, which made it easier for us to hike in.

We all had enjoyed a bunch of drinks our first evening at the campsite. Then I had insisted on staying up last and ended up drinking by the roaring beach fire until I fell fast asleep.

I woke to a searing pain on my left arm. I felt my face, which was smooth as plastic, and my eyelids were stuck shut. I was cold, though I could tell where the beach fire still burned.

I either rolled towards the fire or the fire rolled towards me. I woke up with 14% full thickness burns mainly to my face and along my left arm. My hands had 2-degree burns. My race now began. I tried in vain to make enough noise to wake the others by banging pans and yelling for help, as I could not see anything with my eyelids burned shut.

The tents were a good 200 feet back over a confusion of frost covered beach logs. The surf pounded continuously drowning out any attempt to get attention. I tried to many times to find my way back to the tents, but found myself in shock and having to make my way back to the warmth of the fire.

Finally I pulled my left eyelid open a fraction with both hands and I was able to get a tiny window of vision. Now I could make it through the maize of logs and after stumbling past my friend’s tent, getting to mine.

I really shocked the be-jesus out of my brother Rob with my blackened face and the extensive damage caused by the burns. Rob and our friends immediately jumped into action! Two friends stayed with me while clearing out a place for a helicopter to land. Two other friends ran out the 7km trail and drove into Bamfield, a remote nearby fishing village. They were able to convince the Coast Guard to send a helicopter instead of a boat, as it would be faster and timing was critical.

Finally, several hours after my accident the small helicopter arrived! It landed within feet of where I was. The flight team strapped me into a stretcher and bundled me up for the journey. The stretcher was attached to the bottom of the small helicopter and buzzed 10k back to Bamfield Hospital.

There I was given a quick assessment and once that was over Rob and I waited for the big rescue helicopter to transport me to a Burn Center. During the flight, it was decided that Victoria Burn Unit could fit me in (after some creative shuffling of beds). On landing I was transported to Emergency by ambulance.

When wheeled into the Burn Unit, one of the nurses greeted me and said “You are going to be with us a while!”. I was indeed in the Burn Unit for quite a while – from the end of January until the middle of May – 115 days. I went through 13 surgeries which was a seemingly endless cycle.

I had lost the use of my right eye and I needed a new nose. I had a free flap from my wrist moved to my chin. I had endless variations of donor sites. It was amazing how much skin you go through! I loved the people in the unit, the nurses and support staff, and great doctors – there were many and they were all there for me!

Certainly I was very fortunate to have my three siblings living in Victoria and my parents near by. I was blown away by the endless support I got through friends and family. I had cards and letters from hundreds of people. I was very lucky to be alive!

In mid-May 1994 I was discharged at last. Then slowly but surely I got stronger but the race continued and I had a long way to go. I did go back for many more surgeries (14+) over the next three years. I wore a plastic mask for quite some time. I got my new nose; I got titanium implants for a prosthetic eye and ear. I wore jobst pressure garments for years. Finally I was “good enough”.

While going through the endless surgeries I began running to get strong. I ran the Times Colonist 10k for the heck of it (against my doctor’s advice) being my first race with 6000 other folks. I was hooked! I began racing quite a bit and eventually started training for a marathon. I ran Washington DC’s Marine Corps Marathon in 1998. Now I have run 14 marathons thus far.

Married to my wife Jane we have a six-acre farm in scenic Cobble Hill, BC. with horses that Jane manages, chickens and pigs. Our Bed and Breakfast Hillcrest Farm is busy in the summer and we both love to welcome guests to this wonderful surrounding. We live on the water, so I can take my boat out to go prawn and crabbing year round, and as a professional chef I currently work full time as a cook in Victoria at a complex care facility.

My personal race continues to include mountain biking, marathons and connection with the burn community to offer support when needed.

Lots of lines still to cross!


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