Recovering Mark McMorris heads Down Under as push to Olympics begins

Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris is flying to Australia Tuesday night to get back on his snowboard and begin his Olympic podium push, five months after suffering a horrific injury in an off-trail crash near Whistler, B.C.

Canadian snowboarder is flying to Australia to begin rehab on the slopes

Canada's Mark McMorris suffered a fractured jaw, fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung in an off-trail crash near Whistler, B.C., in late March. (Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)

Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris is flying to Australia Tuesday night to get back on his snowboard and begin his Olympic podium push, five months after suffering a horrific injury in an off-trail crash near Whistler, B.C.

"This injury makes me appreciate life," McMorris said. "The fact that I was given another opportunity, I can wake up every day and realize it can be so, so much worse."

In late March, McMorris, a 2014 Olympic slopestyle bronze medallist and multiple X Games title winner, suffered a fractured jaw, fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung. At the time he posted a photo in the hospital bed, saying "to be honest I was pretty sure I was going to die."

Today he's reflecting on that moment. 

"When I look at those photos I kind of cringe," he said. "But now I'm thankful I did get another chance. It was pretty serious there for a while. It definitely creates a good story. One that I didn't want to create but here I am going through it. The fact that I got another chance makes me want to be the best I can be."

Since then, McMorris has been working with Burnaby, B.C.-based injury rehabilitation specialist Damien Moroney, who helped McMorris recover from a broken rib suffered 11 days before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and a broken left femur in February 2016. The Regina, Sask., native says Moroney has been his saving grace through all of his injuries.

"He's built me back from everything. I have a lot of faith in him and know he's not overdoing it or underdoing it."

Back on the board

McMorris will spend most of September in Australia, focusing solely on building strength on his board and getting mentally focused for the upcoming season. He says it's a delicate balance between fulfilling his needs and sponsor obligations.

"Over the last four years I've probably snowboarded less than all other snowboarders on Earth because of so many many obligations and I've been hurt," McMorris said. 

"Not a lot of time on the snow and a lot time in the gym and rehabbing."

McMorris says he believes his rehab is 50 per cent physical and 50 per cent mental. And while there have been some dark days over the past number of months, he's excited now about the progress he's made.

"As you physically progress you mentally progress because you start to feel strong again," he said. "When you're laying there and having a hard time doing daily activities that's when it's hard mentally. Now that I'm feeling I can snowboard at my best the mental side isn't looming on me anymore."

After Australia, McMorris will return to North America for a short stint before spending October in Switzerland. He's targeting the first world tour event in mid-December to make his competitive return.

Olympic podium finish a possibility

Despite his injuries, McMorris has been provisionally named to the Canadian team for the 2018 Winter Olympics. He'll compete in South Korea if he's healthy and able to meet an easily attainable minimum-performance requirement in a sanctioned event this season.

If his tone these days is any indication, McMorris believes he can make a push for the top of the podium.

"If I feel anything like I do now I'm very, very confident. I just have to stay healthy," he said.

McMorris said he's going to ease back into snowboarding in the early part of the season but isn't reconsidering the level of risk involved in the sport.

"I don't feel like my risk taking is going to be toned back. I try and snowboard smart. That freak accident is one I hope doesn't happen again. Nobody should go through that."

The focus has shifted from rehab to getting back on the board and McMorris is as focused has he's every been. 

"Now I'm completely fired up and know I can snowboard in Australia. I'm just going to be a snowboarder over there."

McMorris and fellow Canadian Max Parrot are considered strong medal contenders for 2018, especially with the big air event now included on the Olympic program alongside slopestyle.

In big air, snowboarders launch themselves off massive jumps in order to complete their tricks, while slopestyle involves competitors going down a course that includes a number of obstacles.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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