Twenty-three-year-old Mark McMorris sailed down the slopes of backcountry Canada with his brother and his friends. They were just taking a weekend to hang out together. Snowboard. Make some videos. No competitions. No pressure.
Mark McMorris flew through the air doing a front side 360-degree flip at high speed. Fog was settling over the terrain. Beautiful.
But he was about to suffer the greatest catastrophe of his life.
As he sailed through the air, between the snow-dripped trees, he drifted a little too far to the left. Crashing violently into a tree more than ten feet in the air.
It stopped him abruptly, slamming him to the ground.
His brother and friends ran to his rescue. What they saw shook them to their core.
Mark’s jaw was swinging from the bottom of his skull — the lower section of this teeth detached completely from the upper mandible.
He was in excruciating pain. Vomiting through his broken, and now swollen face as shock swept over him.
His friends didn’t know what to do. So they talked to him. Trying to keep him awake and alert. Praying he didn’t die while they waited for medical help.
Help that would take more than ninety minutes to get to them.
Finally, after waiting in the cold and the snow, a rescue helicopter reached them, airlifting Mark McMorris to the hospital.
His injuries were so severe, the emergency room doctors placed him in a medically induced coma.
Mark had to have numerous surgeries to repair a fractured jaw, ruptured spleen, shattered arm, fractured pelvis, and collapsed lung.
He also had seven vertebra fractures and five rib fractures.
Unable to move, Mark lay in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of all parts of him. But he was alive.
He questioned if he would ever snowboard again.
Mark McMorris had been a snowboarding phenom for the last seven years. Winning three world cups and more than thirteen X Games medals.
But he was no stranger to injury and pain.
Four years earlier, Mark had broken some ribs at the X Games. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that he was scheduled to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics just a week later.
Mark knew that this was the biggest opportunity of his snowboarding career. And he was committed.
Every time his board flew through the air and then made contact with the snow, a jolt of raw agony tore through him. Crippling pain.
But he had committed to doing his best. To giving his all for Canada.
So he rode hard and fast. He pulled off tricks that nobody in the world had been able to pull off. He pushed for the gold. He went home with a bronze. But he was happy.
His doctor had told him that he had no business competing in the first place.
He kept training. He kept competing. He kept winning.
Then two years later. Another catastrophe.
This time he was competing in a Big Air Competition in Los Angeles. He completed a perfect frontside triple cork, spinning end-over-end over 3 times in the air on his snowboard before landing.
But this this time, when he landed, the front of his board got caught in the snow. Throwing him head over feet — while sliding and bouncing down the rest of the slope.
The largest bone in his leg was broken clean through. Poking through the edges of his snowsuit.
He laid on the ground in physical pain. He was also in mental pain.
“THE PAIN OF BREAKING YOUR FEMUR IS NOTHING COMPARED TO THE PAIN OF LOSING YOUR SEASON.”
Mark couldn’t get up and push through the pain like he did with his broken ribs a couple years prior. He was in bed for two months while he healed.
And the pain continued from there.
He had to go through extensive rehabilitation. Every day was a new journey of torture. He couldn’t flex his foot at all. Some days, he was too sore to get out of bed.
He was so tired. Tired of the constant pain. Tired of not making progress.
It was time to give up this sport that had meant so much to him.
The day Mark realized he may not snowboard again was the day he decided to commit to it even more.
He stopped caring about the pain and focused on what he truly wanted. And that was to get back on the slopes. Back on his board.
And so he did the rigorous physical therapy. He did the water therapy.
“WHEN YOU FEEL PAIN, IT’S NOT A BAD THING. YOU JUST NEED TO KEEP GOING.”
A few short months after that injury, Mark had to go shoot a video for one of his sponsors. It would be the first time he was back on his snowboard.
And it was magical.
All the reasons Mark McMorris loved the sport came rushing back to him as he careened down the small slope. He was happy again. All the pain had been worth it to get back to his roots.
From the time he could walk, Mark was on the move. It didn’t matter what was propelling him.
He was roller skating as a very young boy. He graduated to skateboarding. He wanted to snowboard, but in Saskatchewan, Canada where he lived, there were no hills. It was flat prairie land. So he practiced his flips and jumps on a trampoline until he could get to the hills or the backcountry.
It didn’t matter what he was doing, Mark just loved to go fast, go high, and compete. He loved the thrill of the ride. He loved the friends he made on his snowboarding journey. They were his family.
And he was happiest when they were all together.
A year after his femur break, Mark McMorris would have find himself in this medically induced coma. Jaw ripped almost completely off his face by the violence of his collision against that tree.
This was the accident that would possibly end his career for good.
But the Canadian Olympic team wasn’t so sure Mark McMorris could be stopped by a ruptured spleen or 17 broken bones. So just weeks after his accident in Whistler backcountry, they stopped by his hospital bed to invite him to be a part of their delegation and compete in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics — now less than a year away.
Unable to speak, and with tubes running in and out of his body, Mark scribbled on a pad to his medical team, “Will I be able to snowboard again?”
They assured him that he would. And perhaps that reassurance relit his commitment to heal. To fight back. To get better.
He was supposed to stay in the hospital at least a month to give him the necessary time to heal. The doctors discharged him in just 12 days. He was broken. But not beaten.
Within a few short weeks, he was back in the pool doing water therapy. Healing. Committing to his future.
And his commitment paid off. Just 11 months after the accident that threatened to take his life, Mark McMorris stood at the top of the slope at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
He landed at the bottom with another bronze medal.
Too committed to be broken.
Unwilling to stay damaged. Unwilling to make excuses and blame other people.
And that is the very definition of commitment.
“COMMITMENT IS YOU TAKING COMPLETE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR LIFE REGARDLESS OF WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND OR TO YOU.”
What kind of commitment do you think it takes to keep getting back up every time you get knocked down for the love of your sport? Or your craft? Or your business?
Twenty four years old. Almost dead less than a year earlier. Sure, Mark McMorris would have loved a gold. Who wouldn’t?
But he has his life. He has his health. He’s not making excuses. He’s doing what has to be done. He is committed to his sport. He is committed to his passion.
As he would tell you himself, “There’s a champion in all of us, it’s how you choose to find it.”
What excuses are you making to not commit?
Mark McMorris would probably be the first to tell you that life is not always fair. He would probably be the first to tell you that freak accidents happen. That things don’t always go the way you planned.
That’s no reason to stop trying. It’s definitely no reason to stop committing to the things that bring you joy.
Don’t wait until you are questioning everything from a hospital bed before you realize what is truly important in your life.
Don’t wait until you miss everything you’ve taken for granted. Commit now. Commit fully.