Then, to the top of his arm. “A big plate in my humerus.”
And at his face. “Plates put into my jaw but I had one of them removed.”
McMorris has endured quite a pounding over more than a decade of hard riding for Canada’s most-decorated snowboarder. At 28 and heading into his third Olympics, he is missing one thing from an already awe-inspiring career.
Of the 25 medals he has won over the past 10 years at major events, not one is an Olympic gold.
McMorris will be on the mountain Saturday for the slopestyle and big air contests, where he’ll be going for his 10th and 11th gold medals at the Winter X Games. Next month, he’ll get two more chances to win his first Olympic title in those same events at the Beijing Games.
“Of course it’s something that I really want to get, and it’s something I know I can get,” McMorris says. “But it’s not going to make or break me.”
Given what he‘s been through, it’s laughable to think a medal would make or break him. Among McMorris‘ most ill-timed injuries came at the Winter X Games in 2014 when he broke ribs during his final slopestyle run at the X Games. He recovered to win a bronze medal less than a month later in Sochi.
It was there in March 2017, with the fog rolling in, that McMorris, on an outing with his brother Craig and a group of friends, slammed into a tree and had to be helicoptered to the ICU. Footage from the bloody, gruesome accident is included in the gut-wrenching documentary “Unbroken,” which goes through McMorris‘ accident and recovery.
He broke his jaw, his arm and also suffered a collapsed lung and ruptured spleen. He was placed into an induced coma, and when he came out of it, he was certain his career as a high-level snowboarder was over.
“The call came from Craig and when he said, ‘You have to come, it’s serious,’ then panic set in,” McMorris‘ mother, Cindy, said in the documentary.
“I don’t know what else I would do if I had just called it quits at 23,” McMorris said. “And I’m happy with my choice to keep pushing. I think it’s a feel-good story for anyone. If an athlete gets hurt, and gets a chance to get close to 100 percent again and do what you love, then why wouldn’t you try?”
“The trauma is going be around for my whole life,” McMorris said in the documentary. “It was a snowboard accident and I snowboard every day. How are you really supposed to forget about it?”
Since then, he has gotten better and stronger, but just as he was rebounding, he suffered another blow – this one to his heart: His close friend, Jake Burton Carpenter, died after a relapse with testicular cancer. Burton Carpenter is the inventor of the modern-day snowboard, and the man who has supported so many riders on their journeys.
“It’s not like I’m thinking about him while I’m snowboarding down in my contest run, but it’s just, like, everything else,” McMorris said in March 2020. “It’s everyone coming up to you, saying ’Hey, sorry.’ It’s just nonstop. And everything reminds you of the guy.”
Nearly two years later, some of those wounds have healed, and McMorris‘ riding has grown stronger.
As is the case on the halfpipe, the stakes and difficulty are ever-increasing on the slopestyle and big air courses. An 1800 – a jump with five full rotations – could be what’s needed to win a title in either event, and there are about a half-dozen riders who can do it.
“Winning the Olympics can really help set you up for life,” McMorris said. “Yes, it’s just one side of snowboarding, and it’s one event that comes around once every four years, but it holds a lot of weight.”
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