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"I had to lose my legs before I could kick my drug habit"

SURVIVOR: Naturally gifted athlete Jason Sauer who grew up on the Coast is home visiting friends. Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily
SURVIVOR: Naturally gifted athlete Jason Sauer who grew up on the Coast is home visiting friends. Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily Warren Lynam

JASON Sauer had to lose his legs before he could find his way.

His is a tough lesson about what can happen to some who start dabbling in drugs at an early age and then spiral into serious addiction.

In Jason's case breaking free of the drugs that have controlled his life since he first tried pot as a 15-year-old Maroochydore High School student took even more than the heroin overdose that led to his legs being amputated above the knees in 2011.

"Be careful," is the warning he offers today's Sunshine Coast teen population.

"You see people who dabble in drugs but still function. But they can destroy you."

Now a member of the Park City All Ability ski team in the US, he leaves the Sunshine Coast in two weeks for a series of World Cup races, the results of which will determine whether he pushes for Olympic selection in the Australian team for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The former Kawana Surf Life Saving Club competitor, who also played rugby league for the Maroochydore Swans, was an accomplished skier.

IT WAS on the ski fields of Mt Hotham where he first tried pot when he still held hopes of converting his natural ability with maths, science and graphics into a professional career. Instead Jason left school three months short of the end of Year12, by which time he had shifted to Burnside High.

By the time he was 16, family and friends could see he had a problem with substance abuse, something he didn't acknowledge until he was 23.

"When dad died in May '95 I was 23. I skied the winter out and started trying to tidy up," Jason said.

Instead he ended up completely off the rails.

TO HELL AND BACK: Naturally gifted athlete Jason Sauer wants to prevent others from going on the downhill spiral that cost him his legs.
TO HELL AND BACK: Naturally gifted athlete Jason Sauer wants to prevent others from going on the downhill spiral that cost him his legs. Warren Lynam

He was using pot, alcohol, speed, ecstasy, acid and mushrooms. He had cracks at plumbing apprenticeships both at Mount Buller and in Nambour, but was in and out of drug rehabilitation centres and detox units from Victoria to Queensland.

"I gave up on myself," Jason said. At one stage he checked into a Melbourne detox unit. Within a month of leaving he was back again.

The chaos continued until he struck a period from 2003 to 2008 when he was clean and sober, back on the Coast earning good money plumbing and doing security work.

At the end of 2008 he treated himself to a Canadian ski holiday, met a girl, came home, packed up his possessions and headed back overseas.

"It was a live-in relationship but I was stoned within two months," Jason said.

Again he cleaned himself up and by October 2010 had reconciled with his girlfriend.

Then on Christmas Day that year the by then 38-year-old relapsed on heroin.

A massive overdose saw him lay propped immobile on a friend's kitchen floor for 14 hours.

A lack of oxygenated blood to his extremities meant his legs and feet were dying and poisoning his system.

By the time an ambulance was called at 2pm on Boxing Day he was suffering renal failure and spent four weeks on dialysis.

On the second day of the New Year doctors told him he might live if they amputated his legs.

"I thought it was a bad dream and that I would wake up shortly," Jason said.

It wasn't and he didn't.

Instead after being flown back to Australia in February, 2011, Jason went through months of treatment only to be released from hospital and back into addiction.

"I couldn't tolerate myself straight but when I was stoned it amplified that and I would just be in tears," he said.

His salvation came when a Facebook friend, an incomplete quadriplegic and enthusiastic bobsledder, invited him to Park City in the US to join an adaptive bobsled driving school.

Even then the vice-like grip of drugs could not be broken. Jason had barely touched down in the US when he "rorted" a doctor into prescribing him Oxychodone.

It was going to be a final goodbye to that life. It lasted only until the next morning. Sickened by how hopeless he had become, Jason attended a meeting for addicts on December 29, 2011, came home, flushed the drugs down the toilet and has since been free of everything except nicotine and caffeine.

During a week of bobsled training he met people further along post injury than himself who were over self-pity and enjoying life.

"I got to experience a day doing something enjoyable that really turned the light on for me," Jason said.

On the anniversary of his amputations he was sliding a skeleton downhill at speed and by the end of January 2012 had started sit skiing.

Jason owes his fresh grip on life to the National Ability Centre in Park City that is a hub for athletes of all abilities. By February 2012 he was a member of the alpine ski team and had contested his first race.

In April, 2012, he was gifted a pair of micro processor knees which were fitted by the Hanger Clinic in Oklahoma and has not used a wheelchair since.

Since then he has steered a bobsled down Austria's slopes and the Utah Olympic Park, returned sober to Mt Hotham and spent three months with the Australian squad.

He wasn't invited back to do more work with the Australian squad but will continue this US World Cup season with the Park City team before reassessing his future.

Ideally Jason would like a role where he could share his experiences as a warning to today's adolescents about the risks they face if they go down a similar path.

Topics:  drug addiction drugs editors picks sunshine coast



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