Mark McMorris started snowboarding when he was five years old. Now, at age 24, McMorris is a professional snowboarder and an Olympian.
He’s won two Olympic bronze medals: One at the 2014 games in Sochi and one during the 2018 games in PyeongChang.
However, McMorris would have a close encounter with death before his second medal.
In March 2017 McMorris experienced a nearly fatal crash while backcountry snowboarding in Whistler in Vancouver, Canada.
He was heading toward a jump in between two trees. It was a foggy day, and when McMorris took off, he drifted too far to the left.
“I put a little bit too much pressure on my heels for a front side three [a 360-degree turn that starts facing downhill] … and it just tossed me to the left,” McMorris explained to Humanity.
As a result of the crash, McMorris suffered several injuries, and had to be airlifted to a hospital in Vancouver.
McMorris had a fractured jaw, a fractured left arm, broken ribs, a pelvic fracture, a bruised heart, ruptured spleen, and a collapsed lung. He had 17 broken bones in total. McMorris nearly died.
Doctors had to put McMorris into a medically induced coma to operate on him. He woke up four days later.
“I think I was so happy, and relieved, and so happy to see my loved ones. They were right there when I opened my eyes for the first time. It was crazy,” McMorris said.
He spent a total of 12 days in the hospital, a remarkably short time considering his injuries.
He then stayed in a hotel for a month because he couldn’t fly, due to his collapsed lung.
It took eight months before McMorris could snowboard again.
“It took time. I was super motivated to do it,” he said.
About half way through his rehabilitation, McMorris began to get excited. After eight months he was physically capable of snowboarding.
However, mentally, McMorris felt a little shaky. After the crash he’d survived, anyone could understand.
“Traumatic injuries scare you. They really scare you,” he said.
As McMorris healed physically he also had to heal mentally.
McMorris’s first competition after the crash was at the 2018 Winter X Games, which were about a week before the Olympics.
“It’s funny how when you’re doing the X Games on an Olympic year, its not like what it would be on a non-Olympic year,” McMorris explained.
Mark competed hard during the Winter X Games, but was sure to not put himself at too much risk.
“You’re laying it all on the line at X Games usually, but on an Olympic year you know the Olympics is two weeks away, so you try to chill a bit.”
Because with the Olympics? “You want to do well there because it could change your life.”
He still walked away with a bronze medal at the Winter X Games in Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle.
Before his the Men’s Slopestyle event this past Olympics, McMorris had only three words to describe how he felt: Nervous, prepared, and focused.
McMorris ended up winning his second Olympic bronze medal in Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle. In the moment he was a little frustrated he didn’t win the gold, but that feeling quickly dissipated.
“I’m not supposed to even be here, and Olympians strive their whole life to get a medal, and I just got another medal,” McMorris recalls. “I need to just chill and appreciate this.”
A lot of people ask why McMorris would get back into snowboarding after such a traumatic accident.
“A huge motivator for me is when people, fans, peers, family members reach out an be like ‘you helped me get through this or you helped motivate me to rehab from this. That’s motivation for me to come back,” McMorris explained.
“When people actually want to see you do something, or you really want something and you have the opportunity, you just got to go for it.”
McMorris’ crash and his most recent medal have had a lasting effect on his outlook on life.
“That’s what that injury did for me, it made me appreciate my life. I never took anything for granted, but I definitely appreciate everything I get to do and every accomplishment I get to live nowadays.”