Mark McMorris' journey from coma to Olympic bronze

Mark McMorris took flight during practice runs in Pyeongchang, as he did here, and then he soared during competition in the men's slopestyle, earning a bronze. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Given that 11 months ago Mark McMorris was in a hospital after a horrible snowboarding crash -- in a medically induced coma, coping with a collapsed lung, 17 broken bones and a ruptured spleen -- you would expect his first emotions after winning Olympic bronze Sunday in men's slopestyle would have been utter joy.

But instead, the competitor in him overtook pangs of nostalgia.

"I was immediately thinking about things I'd have changed or wished the judges had changed. ... But then I needed to pinch myself, and with what my last year's been like, people would die for a medal at the Olympics. ... I mean, I nearly did die, so I'm pretty stoked."

As he sat there on Monday, he was in the present, having flittered both to the past and future over the previous 24 hours. First came mild frustration, then appreciation, excitement and a brief realization of his own mortality. "I saw my mum and my dad, and they said, 'I was standing over you in a coma eight or nine months ago; you need to be insanely pumped at what happened.' When it all sets in, you need to be proud."

A day prior, McMorris' post-event thoughts were, "I probably shouldn't be here." But a day later and with thoughts a little more settled, he assessed the journey he had been on from near-death to Olympic medalist.

"I definitely had those thoughts that it wouldn't be reality," McMorris said. "I kind of have a different outlook on life now. To land a good run and stand on the podium again, it definitely feels special. Yeah, it's definitely a miracle, and I'm really thankful."

McMorris' 11-month odyssey to Olympic medalist was social media gold-dust after news started making the rounds. The tale also goes further than astonishment; it has seen him become an accidental figure of inspiration for those experiencing adversity. And as he was asked about it, a smile broke out across his face.

"It's such a cool thing that people are backing the story," he said. "You can't force that on people. At the time, I wish it hadn't happened, but now it's so cool that so many people have reached out and said, 'You've helped me through this part of my life' or motivated me or whatever it may be.

"I'm glad I can play that role and feel lucky to be in the position I'm in, being able to inspire others. Being able to inspire others is better than any medal."

As he sat there with the bronze around his neck -- "I'm starting to find out it's the ultimate credential around here" -- memories floated back to when he was going through his rehabilitation, battling back from the brutal injuries, sustained just a year after he had broken his femur. There were moments when, in his own words, he said to himself, "I don't want to be doing this," but the competitor in him and love for the sport won over.

The bronze is as much a full stop on the past 11 months, but the near-death ordeal continues to give him a new outlook on life. Watching him at the top table in the media conference, you'd never guess his past if you didn't know it. That chapter will forever be ever intertwined in his story, but he is looking to the future.

First, to next week's big air, and he heads into that fully confident having won the test event here. And then, to go back to Canada, back to where he had his fall 11 months ago, back to what he loves doing. "I just look forward to not having anything too set in stone, just taking it as it goes and enjoying being on my snowboard," he said.

"I was so close to not being able to snowboard again, and nothing brings me the joy that snowboarding does. I just want to keep having success in competition and get back into the backcountry and face that fear again and enjoy that with my buddies. Just enjoy the ride, really."