We catch up with world champion snowboarder, Noah Elliott, and portrait photographer, Aaron Anderson, after he used FUJIFILM GFX 100 to visualize Noah’s inspiring journey from St. Louis Children’s Hospital to Paralympic gold.
Noah Elliott’s childhood was much like any other kid’s: Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, hanging out with friends and keeping out of trouble by spending his time skateboarding. However, at 15 years old, Noah’s entire world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
“It was really the first experience I ever had with any cancer, I never met anyone who had cancer before that point and all of a sudden it was me,” says Noah. “When being diagnosed, my first response was ‘let’s get it taken care of by Friday because I have to skate!’”
Little did he know that this diagnosis marked the beginning of a journey that would change his life forever. “Cancer affected me physically and mentally. I lost sports, people, and a part of myself during that process,” Noah continues. “I lost all of my hair, had multiple surgeries on my body and later decided to amputate my leg. All in an effort to be myself again.”
Dealing with such enormous challenges is tough, even for the strongest among us, and Noah believes that staying positive in the face of such adversity was what helped him through. He found this motivation during his treatment while watching the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi on television. This was when he was inspired to pursue snowboarding.
He later met Paralympic snowboarder, Brenna Huckaby, and three-time X Games silver medallist, Erin Nemec, and his fate was sealed. “I believed in myself, but when I heard them say I could do it, I knew it was time,” he says.
Noah went on to win Paralympic gold in the Banked Slalom and bronze in the Snowboard Cross at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang, as well as becoming the Snowboard Cross world champion at the 2019 World Para Snowboard Championships in Finland.
“Snowboarding for me is pure escape. When I strap into my snowboard, missing a leg doesn’t really matter anymore. I no longer feel stereotyped; I feel empowered,” he explains. “Snowboarding is my self-expression and freedom. It’s whatever I want it to be on that day. It can be a tool to compete on the world’s biggest stage, or it can be my ticket to the wilderness and peace.”
Inspired by Noah’s journey, photographer Aaron Anderson reached out on social media with the aim of helping him tell his story. Aaron explains that in telling Noah’s story, he wants to shine a light on the incredible resilience of the human spirit.
“I’ve been blessed to work with a number of Olympic and Paralympic athletes over the years and I am always striving to tell their stories better, in a way that inspires people,” says Aaron. “They are all on such incredible journeys, and it’s awesome to play a small part in them.”
Aaron tells us that creating images that embody just a few integral parts of Noah’s story meant that every frame had to be filled with details, so GFX 100’s 102-megapixel resolution was ideal.
“This is one of the reasons I love photography; we don’t have hours to capture someone’s attention, we have a split second, and I don’t want to waste it,” says Aaron. “I knew almost instantly that GFX 100 was the right camera to use for this shoot. Every scene had so much going on that I didn’t want the viewer to miss and this camera helped me ensure it was all communicated.”
In addition to detail, for this project Aaron needed a camera that could move easily between challenging environments. Fortunately, GFX 100 was more than up to the challenge thanks to its five-axis in-body image stabilization, portability and extensive weather-resistance.
“We were shooting in freezing conditions with me standing in waist deep snow, on the side of mountains and, of course, in clouds of colored powder. I never had an issue along the way, and I never had to worry about whether it would work,” Aaron enthuses. “Even the battery life was killer, especially in the cold weather.”
The result is a project that Aaron and Noah are proud of and one that they believe will inspire others. “I am hoping this project will help people all over to lift their heads and see there is a beautiful story unfolding that they are a part of,” says Aaron. “Noah has been through some really hard things, the type of stuff that can easily make a person feel sorry for themselves and give up on life, but he chose to keep moving forward.”
This desire to inspire others is echoed by Noah: “Realizing my true potential and that everything is possible has opened up new ways of thinking for me. I’m now more ready than ever to pursue anything that comes to mind,” he says. “I just hope this project can inspire people, help them see their own dreams are possible and tell them that now is the time.”
Aaron adds: “There are amazing people all over the world who are enduring and thriving in really hard situations. Even if we inspire one person to keep going, to keep their head up, or just let them know they aren’t alone and have some hope, that would be enough.”