Mark McMorris picks himself up off the snow, his right leg a little tired but pain-free, his confidence soaring and his competitive fire still burning after a nine-month layoff.
Despite a fall on his third and final jump, the Canadian snowboarder placed third at the World Cup big air event in Milan, Italy last Saturday, McMorris’ first appearance since breaking his femur, or thighbone, at Shaun White’s Air and Style event in Los Angeles last Feb. 21.
“It was a huge, huge self-confidence booster for me,” the Regina native told CBC Sports ahead of this weekend’s competition that will double as a test event and World Cup competition at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea. “It was cool to be that on, to know I can still compete. It was good for my mental strength.”
Physically, the 22-year-old said he’s never felt better, but he needs time to clear the mental hurdle of landing a frontside 1440 triple cork from a 16-storey jump with his weight a little too far back and catching an edge on a bump.
McMorris, who is adjusting to having a metal rod surgically implanted in his leg after the crash “that will stay in for life,” is focused on getting repetitions at his hardest tricks and striving for consistency.
This weekend, he plans to revert to a game plan that allowed him to win X Games gold and silver in slopestyle and big air, respectively, in Aspen, Colo., and first place at the Laax Open in Switzerland in the weeks before his injury.
“I just need to go all in all the time,” McMorris, considered one of Canada’s best hopes for 2018 Olympic gold, said. “That usually works best for me hitting the jump. I need to make sure my speed is on.”
McMorris battled a broken rib to win Olympic bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games, but 2016 represented the longest period he has been sidelined since taking up snowboarding at age 15.
McMorris recalled not being able to walk up stairs the first two weeks post-surgery and left wondering if a return to pre-injury form was possible.
But a strong support group, led by his parents Cindy and Don, friends, physiotherapist and strength coach Damien Moroney helped him through the tougher days.
Coincidentally, CBC Sports analyst Craig McMorris, also an avid snowboarder, hurt himself around the same time and later moved to Vancouver to rehab with his younger brother.
“That was a huge motivation,” recalled Mark McMorris. “I was kind of depressed because [snowboarding] had been taken away from me. I love my job and couldn’t do my job, so my job, then, was to get better.
“We rehabbed together and got to snowboard again at the same time in Australia [in August]. It made it so much better having my brother there to push me every day.”
Television isn’t a big part of McMorris’ life but he watched a ton with Craig, from Vancouver Canucks games to the Stanley Cup playoffs to Canadian sitcom Letterkenny, when he wasn’t hanging out with friends or awaiting the October launch of snowboarding video game Infinite Air that bears his name.
“I’ve been through a boat load of good times, success and fame,” said the 12-time X Games medallist, who last summer was nominated for an ESPN Espy award for a third time in the category of best male action sport athlete.
“Being at your lowest teaches you a lot, makes your goals clear and what you appreciate and care about. You realize how important family is and friends are.”
White, who became the face of snowboarding at the 2006 Torino Games when he won gold in men’s halfpipe and defended his title at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, is also a key figure as McMorris often tries to emulate his hero in competition by succeeding under pressure.
But this weekend is about regaining confidence.
“I just need to find my groove again,” said McMorris. “I know what I want and what I need to accomplish.
“I definitely have a bag of tricks that, if I can get them consistent, I don’t know many people that have them.”