Unable to speak, snowboarder Mark McMorris grabbed a pen and paper as he recovered in a hospital bed after he crashed into a tree.
His jaw was broken , along with his arm, pelvis and ribs during a trick gone wrong last March while filming in the British Columbia backcountry. His spleen also ruptured and his lung collapsed.
McMorris scribbled a note to the medical team taking care of him: “Will I be able to snowboard again?”
Definitely, they responded.
“That’s all I needed to hear to push through that terrible time,” McMorris said.
Nearly a year later, he’s heading to the Winter Games in South Korea to represent Canada in slopestyle and Big Air, which makes its Olympics debut. First, though, a stop at the Winter X Games this week in Aspen, Colorado, for some fine-tuning.
“Right when I got hurt, I didn’t think I’d ever snowboard again or do any of this again. So this,” McMorris said , “is just incredible.”
He’s long been one of the premier snowboarders in Big Air and on the slopestyle course that combines intricate rail tricks with triple-cork jumps off 10-story-high jumps. McMorris’ 15 Winter X Games medals, including seven golds, tell that story the best. But the story about his ability to work through pain is best illustrated by the bronze-medal run he put down at the 2014 Sochi Games, where he rode with a freshly broken rib from a crash at Winter X only a few weeks earlier.
“Very difficult,” said the 24-year-old McMorris , who’s from Regina, Saskatchewan. “Everything with a broken rib is difficult.”
The most recent injury came while performing a trick for a movie, when the edge of his snowboard dug in too deep while he was taking off. He drifted left, about 25 to 30 feet, before hitting a tree about 20 feet up.
“I broke everything on my left side pretty much,” McMorris said.
He tried to stay awake while his brother , Craig, got help. A year before, Craig went through a similar experience in the backcountry — only he was the one injured, with a compound fracture in his leg.
“We tried to act fast. It’s your little brother,” said Craig, who’s also a professional snowboarder. “It’s obviously insane and emotional and scary and traumatic and all those kinds of words to describe it.”
But this let him know his brother, despite the pain, was going to be OK: “He kept saying, ‘My legs are fine. I can snowboard. I can snowboard.’ That was a very poignant moment. He’s with it enough to know his legs are fine and he’s already thinking about snowboarding and yet he’s still here, broken in the backcountry.”
As soon as the helicopter arrived and he was airlifted off the mountain, Mark McMorris shut his eyes and didn’t wake up again for two days. He said he underwent surgeries on his jaw, arm, spleen and lung.
Soon after, he wrote that note. He had to know where he stood.
“It was the best feeling in the world when they said I’d snowboard again,” the Red Bull-sponsored rider said. “I was definitely happy.”
He has no lingering fears after the crash and steadily he’s worked his way back up to speed. He won a Big Air World Cup event in Beijing in November. Bringing an Olympic gold medal back to Canada is high on his to-do list.
“I definitely feel pressure at times for sure, but nothing that I can’t handle,” McMorris said. “I just need to make sure I’m having fun and keeping focused.”
The McMorris brothers are always kidding around , which was readily apparent in their show on MTV Canada titled “McMorris and McMorris .” In one episode, they built a ramp to jump over a camper — while being towed by a snowmobile. Mark McMorris carries that free-spirit mentality into his riding.
“It’s a good way to live life and get to do something that I love,” McMorris said.
At the moment, McMorris isn’t working on anything fancy. He’s dialing in all of his tricks, since he missed a big chunk of training time because of his accident.
“I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel,” McMorris said. “I’m trying to get really good at my hardest tricks and not make them seem so hard.”
He’s looking forward to Big Air as well.
“It’s really exciting to have a shot at two medals, and to get to be at the Games a little bit longer,” he said. “Last time, I did the event, ended up getting Canada’s first medal and flew back to Canada to do a ton of media. I didn’t experience the Olympics, so to speak.”
His brother will be there, too — as a host for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s overnight show, in addition to being an analyst for the slopestyle and Big Air events. His favorite? Why his brother, of course.
“Mark’s got a bag of tricks that a lot of people can’t do,” Craig McMorris said. “But what separates Mark is his mental prowess, his ability to put down extremely hard tricks at pressure-cooker times. He thrives on pressure.”
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org