Less than a year ago, Mark McMorris nearly died.
A “freak” snowboarding accident in the B.C. backcountry on March 27 left nearly half his body broken and internal organs damaged.
The 24-year-old was in a medically-induced coma and when he came to, his first thoughts were of his career in snowboarding and his Olympic dream.
“My physio was there … and I asked him, ‘Am I going to snowboard again at the level I was at?’ said McMorris, who won bronze for men’s slopestyle at the 2014 Sochi winter games.
“He’s like, ‘You’re going to snowboard at the level you’re at and you’re going to go to the Olympics.’”
The recovery wasn’t easy. The Regina-born former Olympian had a fractured jaw and left arm, a ruptured spleen, rib and pelvic fractures and a collapsed left lung.
It took a lot of hard work and dedication over the last 11 months to get ready for Pyeongchang.
“(Recovery) is not easy let me tell you that. You need to put every ounce of effort in and just be patient and take the time,” McMorris said.
“It’s really hard physically, but I would say it’s just as hard mentally. Trying to convince yourself you’re getting better, to keep going and to have the drive to get back on snow.”
For that part, he turned to his aforementioned physiotherapist, Damien Moroney.
Moroney already helped McMorris back from a broken femur in 2016, and the snowboarder said he wouldn’t have been able to do any of what he’s accomplished without him.
“He made me realize that being an athlete — like a top, top, top athlete — and strong and everything makes snowboarding, and my longevity in the sport, way easier.”
While getting his body back in shape for snowboarding happened relatively quickly, McMorris said the mental hurdles after such an accident were a whole other story.
He admitted there was a lot of fear when he started jumping and doing tricks again.
Even a month before the 2018 winter games, he said it was something he was still working on, despite having won medals in several competitions since then.
“When you almost die, you get shook a bit. I’ve been working on that and trying not to be too scared (and) the more I ride the less scared I get.”
More than the fear, there’s a sense of purpose. The accident gave McMorris perspective. He said it made him realize where he belongs and he felt that from the moment he started landing jumps again.
“I think it was just pure joy, happy, glad I went through all those steps (in recovery) because (snowboarding is) the one thing that makes me super, super happy,” he enthused.
“It was a feeling that was hard to describe. It was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is what I’m meant to be doing.”
McMorris will compete in two events at this Olympics. Slopestyle, on (Feb. 10), which he brought home a bronze medal in in 2014, and big air (on Feb. 23) which is new to the Olympics this year.
“I would love two medals and I’d love to improve the shade from the last Games so hopefully (I will). I have my fingers crossed.”