Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris has always had an amazing ability to quickly recover from significant injuries. His comeback from a near-fatal crash in the B.C. backcountry earlier this year is just the latest example.
“I’m feeling really, really good,” he said. “For what happened, I’m doing way better than I thought I’d be doing at this point in time.”
McMorris suffered breaks to his jaw and left arm, a ruptured spleen, a stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung when he crashed off a jump on March 25. He was airlifted from Whistler to Vancouver and underwent emergency surgery to control bleeding and repair his jaw and arm.
“When you get injured usually it’s like, ‘Oh man I’m so bummed, but I can’t wait until the next time I can snowboard,”‘ McMorris said. “This time I was like, ‘I can’t wait until the next time I can move again or like – live.’
“That (crash) was just gnarly.”
The Regina native called it a “huge freak accident,” adding his snowboard’s edge unexpectedly dug in on the soft snow. He couldn’t stop himself from drifting too far left and into the tree.
“I just whacked it out of mid-air,” McMorris said. “It was not a small tree and (it didn’t have) branches on it. I hit it all on my left side. I did a front-side 360 and as I turned around it was just like right there. And then it was just – boom. I broke everything, like 16 bones or something in one hit. That’s like a car crash.”
The 2014 Olympic slopestyle bronze medallist was with his older brother Craig – also an elite snowboarder – and credits him for taking charge of the situation.
McMorris was out cold for about 45 seconds. When he regained consciousness, his mind was racing.
“I didn’t think I’d ever snowboard again when I was laying there after I hit that tree,” he said. “I was awake and was waiting. As soon as the helicopter got there (90 minutes later) I went to sleep. I remember the whole time waiting, just trying to survive because (I) ruptured (my) spleen and all that and my jaw was just hanging. I was puking. I thought I was going to die – literally.”
After spending 10 days in hospital, McMorris was quite limited physically for about a month. He started the rehabilitation process in the Vancouver area and currently spends at least 2-3 hours per day on a “heavy” gym routine and hydrotherapy work.
McMorris, 23, was on a liquid diet for six weeks – mostly smoothies and soup – and has put back on most of the weight and muscle he lost over the spring.
“It hurts so bad and I hate it every time,” he said of the rehab sessions. “But when I leave I’m so happy. I’m like, ‘OK that’s one step closer to doing what I actually love and what brings me ultimate joy.’ Also it brings me everything I’ve been able to experience in life.
“It all comes from snowboarding and maybe being who I am. But I am who I am because of snowboarding at the end of the day.”
There is no firm timeline in place for a return to the slopes. He’s tentatively looking at the fall but doesn’t need to rush back for Olympic qualifications as he has a provisional spot on the team for the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Games.
McMorris, who sat down for a rare extended interview this week while in town for promotional work with Cheerios, said he has been buoyed by the tremendous support he has received from fans around
“The energy from everybody motivates you to heal,” he said.
“Laying in the hospital and getting seven zillion texts a day or emails or Instagram (messages) or whatever. It was like, ‘OK these people believe I can do it, for sure I can do it.”‘
McMorris broke a rib just 11 days before the 2014 Games and suffered a broken left femur last year. In both instances, he was back competing earlier than expected.
He earned World Cup Crystal Globes last season in the new Olympic discipline of Big Air and as the overall champion. If his rehab and recovery continue as planned, McMorris will likely be a medal favourite in both Big Air and slopestyle competitions in South Korea.
“I can’t be average,” he said. “I need to be like a super-human again. That’s what I’ve been working towards.”