One of the first questions Mark McMorris asked doctors following a horrific crash over the weekend was if he would be healthy in time to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
His older brother has no doubt the Canadian snowboarding star will be ready.
“Right now in his head, he’s going to the Olympics,” Craig McMorris said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “I believe he’s going to the Olympics.
“It’s all day by day, but there’s no reason he’s not.”
Mark McMorris suffered severe injuries while snowboarding with Craig and a group of friends on Saturday in B.C.’s backcountry after going off a jump and crashing into some trees near Whistler.
A bronze medallist at the 2014 Olympics, McMorris suffered breaks to his jaw and left arm, a ruptured spleen, a stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung.
The 23-year-old from Regina had to be airlifted off the mountain and underwent two separate surgeries over the weekend to control bleeding and repair his jaw and arm.
Craig McMorris said Wednesday that while the injuries are serious, Mark is showing steady improvement while recovering at Vancouver General Hospital.
Looking ahead to the future
“Mark’s doing amazing, actually,” he said. “He’s in pain, but every five, six hours when I go back there’s been major progress. Everything is positive for him now moving forward. He’s a hard worker and he’s going to be back right away.”
Craig described what happened to his brother, who won bronze in slopestyle’s debut at the Sochi Olympics while dealing with broken ribs, as a “freak accident.”
“It was pretty small,” Craig said of the jump. “It was infinitely below our skill level … but Mark flew a little too far left and ended up in some trees, which is super unfortunate.”
The group didn’t know what to think initially, but quickly sprang into action, calling for help by cell phone and keeping Mark comfortable.
“Mark was conscious, talking to us, explaining what was the most painful,” said Craig, also an accomplished professional snowboarder. “You’re making sure he can breathe and he’s communicating with us and is still awake. If you’re super scared or panicked then you’re wasting time. You just go into full adrenaline, full: ‘We’ve got to get out of here as soon as possible.’ And we did.”
Waited two hours for helicopter rescue
Craig said the helicopter arrived in under two hours. Mark was initially taken to Whistler before being flown to Vancouver.
“I’ve been involved in backcountry rescues before,” said Craig, who broke his leg last year and had to be airlifted out by helicopter. “This was by far the gnarliest and most severe.”
Fans of backcountry skiing and snowboarding seek out fresh fallen snow on unmarked and ungroomed slopes in remote areas that usually aren’t maintained or patrolled by the personnel seen at traditional resorts.
“When something like this happens you learn so much,” said Craig McMorris. “You realize how unprepared you are, the severity of everything and you do a lot of learning. But I also don’t think you could just stop. It’s our lives, something we’re extremely passionate about.”
Despite the injuries he suffered, Canada Snowboard announced this week Mark McMorris had been provisionally nominated to the country’s Olympic team. While there’s no timetable for his recovery, he will have to show he’s healthy before fully securing his spot for the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that begin Feb. 9, 2018.
“That’s part of being an extremely high-level snowboarder — you get hurt,” said Craig McMorris. “It’s traumatic and it sucks and it’s awful, but it’s part of the job.”
Pyeongchang? Anything is possible
If he’s able to compete, Mark McMorris is considered a strong medal contender heading into 2018, especially with the big air event now included alongside slopestyle.
McMorris won three X Games medals this season along with two World Cup Crystal Globes, one for big air and another as the overall champion.
His stellar campaign came on the heels of another serious injury suffered in February 2016 when he caught an edge on a landing at an event in Los Angeles.
McMorris — who has 14 combined X Games medals in his career, including five in big air — fractured his right femur and had a metal rod surgically implanted in his thigh.
“We’ve gone through the process before of that six, nine months of rehab every single day to get back on your snowboard,” said Craig Morrris. “Maybe I’m speaking too soon, but I don’t imagine this will be any different.”
– The Canadian Press. Image: McMorris, pictured with his mother Cindy at a Vancouver hospital. (@craigmcmorris/Instagram)