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Walking the Line Between Risk and Reward

Mike Shaw

Mike Shaw, SafeStart Director of Education and Athletics, recently delivered a rather personal keynote presentation to the North Eastern Alberta Teachers Convention. Mike has a unique story about surviving significant spinal trauma and paralysis from the neck down after a freestyle skiing accident in 2013. The convention encourages teachers to introduce new ideas into the classroom and Mike introduced his perspective on risk for those in attendance.

Prior to his accident, Mike carved a fine line between high risk and high reward through freestyle skiing. But Mike posed the question: “Is it the level of risk that’s getting us hurt or is it something else?” Referring to complacency, he went on to say that the worst injuries are not always a result from the most dangerous activities, but rather they come from times when you’re complacent or no longer perceive there to be any risk involved.

Mike’s own injury was the result of him being complacent. “It wasn’t the difficulty or the risk of the trick I was doing that got me, I’d done it a thousand times,” Mike explained. “It was the state that I was in that caused me to crash.”

The auditorium was full for Mike Shaw's keynote at the North Eastern Alberta Teachers Convention in February 2016

From work to leisure activities, the level of risk never really changes from the first time you do something, but the perception of risk can shift drastically. As Mike’s story shows, this can have a life-altering affect—and if we want to protect young people we need to do a better job of educating them about complacency and risk perception.

Mike finished his talk with a discussion of performance and how desired outcomes, productivity, quality and efficiency can be improved once the risk involved has been put in perspective. The teachers were given a new perception of risk that not only applies to athletics, but to everyday life.

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