Chasing Time: The Jake Sims Story | How Snowboarding Enriched The Life of a War Veteran & Stroke Survivor

How snowboarding enriches the life of a war veteran and stroke survivor

Words: Xander

I came across Jake Sims for the first time on Instagram. I would see incredible photos from touring missions in the Main Range at very off-peak times like December or May and I was immediately impressed by the dedication and the sheer creativity of his trips. Usually by October, splitboard trips start to slow down and our attention shifts to glacier parks and early season trips overseas – but when in mid December Jake would share photos of riding the last patch of snow left on Carruthers, I felt compelled to reach out.

Having gotten to know Jake a little better, I realised that his affinity for snowboarding comes from a much deeper place than just getting a novelty shot for Instagram. Jake is in the army, and having been on many military expeditions to unimaginably intense places, he finds solace and disconnection from the realities of his profession by spending time in the backcountry. As cliché as it sounds, Jake says that snowboarding isn’t just a hobby, he ‘needs’ it – to feel alive, to detach and to have fun.

But it’s not just a respite from work that motivates him to head to the mountains. In 2017, Jake had a stroke and was very close to dying. He lost his vision, his balance, and had to re-learn how to walk. Three blood clots in his brain resulted in him losing 16% of his brain function and Jake had re-teach himself basic motor skills. As part of his recovery, he found snowboarding to be an incredibly cathartic way to heal, and in fact re-learning how to ride his snowboard was actually encouraged by his neurologist and rehabilitation doctors.

Since his near-death experience, Jake speaks candidly about the fragility of life and about how his biggest fear is dying early. Snowboarding is a continual reminder to enjoy life while he’s here on earth and it appears he gets a lot of energy simply by strapping in on these summer splitboard trips that many people would otherwise label ‘pointless’. Snowboarding was, and continues to be, Jake’s therapy – regardless of conditions.

Juggling fatherhood and a senior content role in the military, Jake’s missions are a little more few and far between these days, but what he’ll never lose is a genuine connection with the mountains and a love for snowboarding – a connection that he says saved his life.

We caught up with Jake to learn more about his journey.

Transfer: Jake, thanks for taking the time to chat to us – let’s take it back to the start – how did you get into snowboarding?

Would you believe I learnt to snowboard at a shopping centre in Dubai? It was at the end of a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, we were on R&R on our way back to Australia. From that day, I was hooked.

You’re in the army – can you describe what you do for work?

I first joined the Infantry for 7 years and then transferred to photographer, I’ve been in the Army for 17 years

Where has being in the army taken you – both physically and mentally?

I’ve deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and many other places in the world which has shown some of the best and the worst of humanity. It’s given me many life experiences which has shaped who I am. Mentally it’s shown me what the human body can really achieve when pushed.

What do you think about that SAS show?

To be honest I couldn’t bring myself to watch a single second.

You’ve taken some amazing photos – have you always been into photography? What is it about shooting photos that excites you?

I’ve always loved photography since I was young. To be paid to do my passion is something I never thought would be possible, let alone in the Army. Taking photos in the backcountry is my favourite place to do it.

Do you have a favourite photo?

I don’t really have a favourite, I do have an emotional connection to a lot of photos I’ve taken because of what they meant at the time. I would say a photo I got of Erryn on an early May tour. It was blowing 80km/h, there was only 30cm of snow on the ground and the clouds were rolling in. I snapped a shot of him riding down, showing a view that’s not often seen out there.

In 2017, you had a stroke, what can you remember from that day?

In mid 2017 I suffered from a stroke. I was on a task with work. I remember feeling heavy in the feet and had the feeling of impending doom. I rang my wife and told her I think I’m going to die, I went down and out. Then the next thing I knew I had a crazy out of body experience, a work colleague was holding my limp body while I was vomiting, it was very surreal. From there I was whisked away to hospital into the Acute Care Stroke Room.

I had 3 blood clots in my brain, couldn’t see out of my right eye and lost my balance down my right side. I had my wife and 4 month old son at home, it was pretty crazy time. Over the next few months I slept for 18 hours a day due to fatigue from the stroke. I did rehab to learn to balance again, re-learn all the pathways that my brain had lost and just how to function at life. I lost 16% of my brain capacity.

Snowboarding was part of your recovery?

Early on I asked my doctor about snowboarding again. It was one of my biggest fears that I’d never be able to do it again. My neurologist and rehab doctor encouraged me to snowboard. I am not going to lie, it was pretty funny, I spent more time on my ass than standing up the first few times. My mates were super supportive and we just made it fun each time out. I had to reteach myself how to ride, I’d totally forgotten how to do it. I would be riding and as soon as I stopped concentrating, I’d just fall over.

How was the rehab process – was there a turning point where you felt like snowboarding was helping?

The biggest turning point for me was my first BC tour with Erryn after the stroke. My wife Liz supported me and the plan was to tour out with Erryn and take some photos of him riding a steep line. I didn’t feel comfortable, and it was still too dangerous for me to consider riding anything steep. On the way back there was this big glide crack that had formed in the spring snow. I told Erryn he had to hit it for a photo as it would look epic. Erryn said I should hit it, I was really nervous and fatigued. I could see the headlines, “snowboarder, 3 months after a stroke, falls in a 6m crevasse and needs to be airlifted out”. Erryn encouraged me enough that I decided to give it a crack. The next few moments will stick with me forever, I remember jumping the gap, landing and having the most epic feeling of euphoria. I literally screamed with stoke as my eyes welled up with tears, the feeling was unbelievable, I was back, I could snowboard again.

You talk a lot about how snowboarding helps you escape – can you elaborate on that a little?

I’ve had a lot experiences that have shaped my 35 years. I lost my Dad when I was 15, I’ve lost a lot of close mates and I’ve seen the best and worst of humanity. One of my biggest fears is dying young. The backcountry is my happy place, it frees my mind and resets me. All the decisions are mine to make, there is no one around, it’s just me and the mountains.

Is it like therapy?

100%, my wife always tells me when it’s time for me to go and have a day in the backcountry haha. She’s such an amazing support, I have such limited time do anything because of how busy work is, yet she lets me go backcountry, she knows I need it.

You ride almost exclusively with your mate Erryn – what does that relationship mean to you?
Me and Erryn have an amazing relationship, I trust him with my life. This winter is his 40th winter of riding. We’ve both had things happen in our lives and the BC means similar things to us both. Sometimes we’ll skin to an objective for hours and not even speak a word to each other, because nothing needs to be said. We always have a plan in mind and our stoke is just so high for the BC. It’s not easy to find a BC partner who is physically and mentally similar to you, but I was lucky to have found that with Erryn, he is like an older brother (much older) to me.

Do you like to ride solo?

I love touring solo, it’s just me and the mountains (and my camera). All the calculated decisions are mine to make. When I’m riding something technical my mind is free, I’m focussing on nothing other than what I’m doing in that moment. It’s like meditation out there, I find myself sitting at the top of a line for an hour, just soaking it all in and taking a few photos.

Do you guys have a best day ever?

Man, we’ve some epic days out there, it’s real hard to pinpoint my favourite. We’ve done some pretty stupid things. One that sticks in my mind was an early season jaunt. Parks closed the gate at Perisher after 30cm fell, so we had to ride our bikes to Charlottes and then tour from there. We hit the Western Faces all day, we were completely cooked. We crossed the snowy at Charlottes in the dark and then had to bike ride back, in the dark, on black ice. I’ll never forget that bike ride, it was hilarious. Literally 2m into the ride we both ate shit. Ensue a crazy ride back, laughing our guts out, stoked on life for what was such an epic day. 15 hours and 38km later we got back to the car.

You ride at all times of the year and your dedication to riding what most people would call pointless patches of snow is unmatched – what do you get out of those early and late season missions?

I make the most of what we have. A day in the mountains is better than a day at home. Every tour is fun I’ve never once regretted the decision to head out. Early and late season turns can be very technical and exciting. The terrain is at its steepest and it’s so fun switching your brain to survival mode to get down a gnarly line. I always love trying to get Club Lake main chute at the last possible moment in December.

Splitboarding has kind of taken off in Australia – what do you think of the scene out here? Any tips for people trying to get into it?

Splitboarding is a game changer, I remember when I switched from snowshoes to a split and it just made everything so much more achievable. It’s so good to see people really getting into it now. I’d say to anyone wanting to do it, go for a tour with a guiding company or some mates that split and see if it’s something you enjoy.

It’s clear that snowboarding means a lot to you – can you describe a bit about why?

I always live by the motto that you never get today back. Snowboarding for me is my escape from the real world. I need it to feel alive. All the expectations of day-to-day life and living are gone when you are on that board.

You’re a Dad now – are your kids into snowboarding?

I hate to say it, but my kids are on skis, It’s just so much easier. They are 3 and 5 and I’ve told them that the door is always open for snowboarding if they want. I must say, it’s pretty special riding a chairlift with your kids and then riding a line together.

What advice will you give to them?

Time is limited, there is no point feeling sorry for yourself because you never get today back. Find what you love to do and do it today, because tomorrow you may not be here to do it.

Jake would like to remind readers that if you are ever in a crisis or require mental health support, you can call Lifeline 13 11 14.


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