MEMOIR

Book review: 'Just Don't Fall' by Josh Sundquist

Sunday, February 7, 2010

JUST DON'T FALL

How I Grew Up, Conquered Illness, and Made It Down the Mountain

By Josh Sundquist

Viking. 322 pp. $25.95

Even as a 9-year-old, when he was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, Josh Sundquist knew enough about cancer to be horrified. But in telling the story of his struggles against the disease that was to claim his leg, and of his adventures as a downhill skier in the Paralympics, Sundquist has perfected the laugh-so-you-don't-cry approach. This form of cancer, he writes, "moves like the Vikings in the Middle Ages" -- which is to say, roaming widely and conquering fast. Eventually, when it was time for the prosthesis to go on, he writes: "My fake leg, when it is finished, is very uncomfortable. This is surprising since the leg costs as much as a fancy car, and fancy cars are very, very comfortable."

As a skier, Sundquist, who lives in Arlington, does without that artificial limb. In fact, he does without it quite a lot. As he explains, "I wear mine about half the time. It's good to wear for social occasions, and times when I have to carry ski equipment. But when I know I have to do a lot of walking . . . I stick with crutches, because they're much easier to use." Only after Sundquist achieved his long-held goal of representing the United States at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy, did his parents inform him that he almost didn't make it all those years ago -- that at one point his doctors predicted that the 9-year-old cancer patient wouldn't last another six months.

-- Dennis Drabelle


© 2010 The Washington Post Company