As some people may have figured out, I am a massive youtube user. I watch a lot of stuff, but I have a few favorites that I click play on the minute they post a new video. Josh Sundquist is one of them, and though I’ve known about his book for a long time I’d never actually read it, until I was surprise gifted a copy because apparently everyone knows I’m a fan.
It took me a few weeks to get through the first half of Just Don’t Fall, but not because it wasn’t good. Josh Sundquist’s writing is funny, but the story is also heartbreaking and sad, and I could only manage it in medium-sized doses. Today, though, I sat down and decided that I would finish it without getting up, which was surprisingly easy.
In his book, Josh chronicles his childhood battle with cancer and all the heartbreak that comes with it. But he also details his struggles to find a sport accessible to one-legged people, and his love of the one that he discovers: skiing.
Generally, I am not much of a sports book person. I find most forms of organized sports slightly pointless even when watching them live, much less reading about them fictionalized. This book was different. Maybe I loved it so much because I felt the same way as Josh about a winter sport when I was the age he was when he discovered skiing. Maybe it was because he focused not so much on the play-by-play and more on the emotional repercussions of his sports. Whatever the reason, Just Don’t Fall was the most poignant sports book I’ve ever read, packed with so much emotion that I forgot to remember that I was reading about sports. I simply loved every minute of the relatable and surprisingly non-ageist prose.
Why was the story so good and the emotional journey so beautiful? Because reading the eight-year-old Josh’s thoughts about skiing reminded me that I felt the same way when I was seven and discovered figure skating. I loved it so much the first day I hit the ice that I immediately convinced my mother to send me to lessons, and adored it to the point of possible spontaneous combustion. I loved it so much that in fifth grade, after three or four years of the six a.m. lesson times and not getting home until past my bedtime so I could practice after school, a classmate was explaining me to another student and said “[Rosey] only thinks about books and ice skating.” That remained true for several years, but my sport lost the romance as I started having to choose between my athletic life and the other things I liked to do. That’s where Josh’s story comes in. He made exactly the decision I didn’t, leaving home, school, everything he’d known to do the thing he loved. I quit, choosing school over my sport, but reading Just Don’t Fall was a window into what it could have been like had I chosen the other path. It reminded me both that I’d lost something huge and that what I chose was okay, which is something I’ve never found in any other book.
Another thing that made Just Don’t Fall so likable was that Josh never made himself seem big. In fact, he chronicled with scathing detail every last place he’d ever taken, every joke he’d ever botched, every breakdown he’d ever had. I liked human Josh much better than I would have if he’d taken first place in every race he’d ever entered and gotten all the girls he’d wanted. It was honest and real, and something so brave to publish and willingly make people know. Just Don’t Fall is no Three Cups of Tea, there’s not one allusion to godlike heroism or greater-than-human anything. Josh is a boy (and then a man) who wants to do something with his life, and it just happens to be skiing. He loses faith in his abilities plenty of times. He quits. But then he goes back. And he does well. That’s the essence of his story.
One more thing, and then I’ll let you get back to your Friday evening. If you have ever felt love for a sport and then given up, even without knowingly doing so, Just Don’t Fall might be just the testimony you need to convince yourself either that your decision was alright, or that if you really want to it’s not too late to turn around and pick it up. Josh did. And it worked.