'Eye-opening' crash has Olympic champ Brady Leman entering season with gratitude
Freestyle skier suffered serious injuries while mountain biking in spring
Brady Leman recognizes how bad the terrifying mountain biking crash could have been.
Leman was riding near Fernie, B.C., at the end of May when he was thrown from his bike and slammed into a tree.
He sustained five broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, and a collapsed and punctured lung. But he also left with overwhelming gratitude that the accident wasn't any worse.
"If you hit a big tree at that speed you can't do much," he said. "I was just so thankful that I was going to be okay. I was so thankful for everything in my life ... it was a big eye opener."
Leman says he's suffered plenty of injuries from skiing throughout his career — including breaking his leg at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — but the sheer amount of trauma to his core from the crash had him in severe pain.
Luckily, he said, he didn't hit his head or back.
But the Calgarian has an unstoppable nature. Only three months after needing help to get out of bed, Leman was back in the gym, and the accident felt "like a bad dream." He even found time to hit the trails on his bike again.
The World Cup circuit is back on Monday with ski cross athletes competing in a pair of nighttime races on Dec. 15 and 16 in Arosa, Switzerland. The event will be streamed on CBCSports.ca.
World Cup circuit
The World Cup stop at Val Thorens, France is set for Dec. 19 and 20. After a holiday break, skiers will head to Austria's Montafon for Jan. 15. Idre Fjäll — a 600-metre sprint event and back-to-back races — runs on Jan. 23 and 24 in Sweden, followed by Feldberg, Germany on Jan. 30 and 31.
For the first time, skiers will go to Bakuriani, Georgia for a test event on Feb. 6 in preparation for the 2023 world championships. The world premiere of the ski cross team event is scheduled for Feb. 7. Next is Russia's Sunny Valley on March 13, before the World Cup Finals and crystal globe presentation on March 21 in Veysonnaz, Switzerland.
When CBC Sports spoke to Leman in October, the freestyle skier said he was "totally recovered" from his crash — despite some strength that needed to come back in his shoulder — and was preparing for the upcoming season.
"It's something I would definitely prefer to [not] go through at 33," Leman laughed. "But at the same time ... it gives me some confidence I'm still resilient enough to bounce back from something like that. Makes me realize that whatever life throws at me, I'm still going to be able to deal with it."
The accident followed a season that frustrated the 2018 Olympic gold medallist — an emotional roller coaster of one-off events where he "never got it going."
But when the dust settled, it still ended with Leman ranked number three in the world. Canada's Kevin Drury captured the Crystal Globe.
Leman says he started off burnt-out instead of hungry when the World Cup circuit opened in December — the result of starting his training in the summer. But a reset over Christmas helped the decorated athlete find some speed and a quieter mind.
World Cup stops at the start of 2020 saw Leman place fifth in Canada (Nakiska) and 10th in France (Megeve.) He was also within reach of the podium with a pair of fourth-place finishes in Sweden (Idre Fjäll) and Russia (Sunny Valley.)
The 2016 X Games champion says he takes confidence in knowing those places could very well have been podium finishes.
"When I felt like I wasn't all the way there, I was still in the mix in the top three in the world and giving myself a chance to be on the podium [for] a good chunk of the races," he said. "I had some bad luck in the finals ... could have been a win in the mix there, and that would've totally changed the feeling on the season. So I take a lot of confidence from that."
The World Cup Finals in Switzerland were abruptly cancelled the night before the event, and competition around the world came to a stop due to COVID-19.
With a laugh, Leman said he "thinks" he's crossing his fingers that the world championships in China will pan out.
"There's a lot of unknowns. Normally you're going over and the only thing you're really worried about is getting hurt. And now it's not," he said.
The year will also be about building the momentum he needs on the rise to another Olympic season, he added.
This year's circumstances mean having to balance a new array of thoughts and concerns, all the while trying to focus on training and competing. The need for mindfulness and taking time to centre oneself, he said, is crucial.
One of the benefits, Leman said, is you can't afford to think about too much else when you're skiing on a glacier.
"I think once we get over there, [get] into the swing of things, it's going to be nice to just be able to focus on skiing and get back into a little bit of what would be normal for an athlete," he said.
Also among the challenges, Leman added, is his understanding that people might view competing as a "frivolous pursuit." He hopes people can recognize sports' importance.
"There's a lot of people going through a lot of challenges these days, so as an athlete [I] deal with a little bit of guilt on that," he said. "But it's our passion and it's our job and I think there's a lot of value in sport and inspiring people and distracting people."