Canadian Snowboarder Mark McMorris won an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s slopestyle on Sunday. But for the past 11 months, McMorris endured one of the biggest challenges of his life — and almost didn’t make it out.

The Associated Press reports that last March, McMorris was working on a film project when “the edge of his snowboard dug in too deep while he was taking off” and he hit a tree. His brother, Craig, was with him at the time and tried to get help.

McMorris struggled to stay awake. A helicopter airlifted him to the hospital. Once he was safely onboard, “McMorris shut his eyes and didn’t wake up again for two days.”

Mark McMorris/Instagram

The impact was severe — Today reported that McMorris broke his jaw and suffered from a collapsed lung, fractured arm and a ruptured spleen. He broke a total of 17 bones. Doctors placed him in a medically induced coma and performed multiple surgeries on him.

According to the Associated Press, McMorris did eventually wake up and when he did, he asked for a pen and paper so he could ask the one burning question on his mind. He took the pen and paper and wrote, “Will I be able to snowboard again?” The answer given to him was a resounding yes.

Mark McMorris/Instagram

McMorris wrote on his Instagram account a week later:

Apparently a lot can change in a week … So so thankful to have my life! It was touch and go there for a second and I don’t know how I can thank everyone enough for praying and sending healing vibes … I hit a tree in the whistler backcountry a week ago and to be honest I was pretty sure I was going to die … I will never take another day on this earth for granted.

According to USA Today, McMorris spent the next months leading up to the Olympics going to rehab for his injuries. It was a slow process, but McMorris kept realistic goals for himself.

Craig, who is part of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Olympic broadcast team, said:

“[I]t’s just like one step at a time. … In that kind of stuff, if you start looking so far ahead, you’re going to be disappointed. If you set small goals and achieve them, you’re gaining momentum and that’s what Mark did.”

ESPN reports that the rehabilitation process was not without challenges. At one point during his recovery, McMorris thought to himself: “I don’t want to be doing this.”

Mark McMorris/Instagram

Fortunately, McMorris already had a spot on the Canadian team so he could focus on his recovery. He recovered and competed this past Sunday in Pyeongchang, earning a bronze medal.

ESPN reports that initially, McMorris was dissatisfied with his performance and thought about how he could have performed better. He said that following the event, he thought, “I probably shouldn’t even be here.”

McMorris recalled:

“I was immediately thinking about things I’d have changed or wished the judges had changed … 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.”

Eventually, he acknowledged that he had defied the odds and “won” by being able to compete at the Olympics.

McMorris said:

“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.”

He told ESPN that his accident helped change his perspective on life.

McMorris said:

“I definitely had those thoughts that it wouldn’t be reality. 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 has become an inspiration to fellow Canadians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

ESPN reports that although McMorris could have done without the injuries, he is glad that his story has inspired others to persevere in the face of adversity.

He said:

“It’s such a cool thing that people are backing the story … 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.”

McMorris told ESPN that although he won an Olympic bronze medal, “[b]eing able to inspire others is better than any medal.”

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