EDWARDS — There was a time that Edwards resident Steven MacCutcheon, 26, didn’t think he’d ever snowboard again, much less have a legitimate shot at the next Winter Olympics.
In 2005, MacCutcheon suffered a life-threatening crash while competing in boardercross at Copper Mountain. He had just qualified for the World Junior Championships in snowboard cross and parallel giant slalom. That day at Copper, he had made it to the final heat. He remembers hitting a jump, flipping upside down and later, bystanders told him that he fell about 30 feet and landed on his head.
He was resuscitated at the scene and airlifted to Denver, where doctors said he had two brain hemorrhages, brain shearing, a shattered shoulder and a broken elbow.
With his parents, sister and pastor praying by his bedside, they said it was a miracle he woke up — but the injuries were lasting. Initially, he had trouble even saying his own name, and doctors said the injuries had affected his frontal lobe.
“Initially I didn’t understand what had happened. I thought I was going to get better,” said MacCutcheon. “I was still thinking I was going to snowboard again and doctors had said there’s no way. We all moved to South Carolina where my grandparents lived for me to recover, be away from the snow and start a new life.”
But recovery was tough, both mentally and physically, and MacCutcheon wasn’t able accept his new life. Finally, about two years after the injury, a neurologist told him that he might be able to snowboard again.
“I started training in the gym, and the pain started to go away and I was getting healthy again,” he said. “I was thinking I could go out again —not to race — and it was a long shot.”
The comeback kid
He did snowboard again, and a few years ago, life brought him back to Vail. He had been pursuing a music career, something he picked up after his injury, but began to think that maybe he might be able to return to racing after all.
“I started thinking, ‘Maybe I can compete because I can’t stay away from this place,” he said. “I knew the biggest miracle was going to be my mom being OK with it, and my family was.”
He called up his friend Michael Trapp, a U.S. National Champion in snowboarding, and told him he was thinking about making a comeback.
“I went to Loveland to ride with him, and when we got to the bottom of the run, he looked at me and said, ‘You’re back!’ It was special because he had been there the day of my accident seven years earlier,” said MacCutcheon.
Boardercross, with its jumps and possible collisions, is out of the question for MacCutcheon. Instead he’s focused on the speedier parallel slalom and GS events, which are similar to their alpine counterparts.
Looking to 2018
This year was his second season back on the circuit, and he had promising results. In the North American finals, he took eighth place, among two American snowboarders to make the top 10. He also took two podiums on the NorAm circuit, where the competition includes World Cup competitors.
He missed the Sochi Olympics, but mostly because there was only funding for one snowboarder in his discipline on the American team. In fact, fellow American-born Vic Wild chose to race for Russia due to the lack of funding in his home country — and won two golds at Sochi.
MacCutcheon finished the season ranked fifth in the U.S. in parallel snowboarding, and he said he’s got his eye on 2018. He trains with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club alongside five other of the country’s elite snowboarders.
He says he couldn’t have made his comeback without the backing of his community and constant encouragement. He believes he was healed for a reason, and plans to make the most out of this second chance.
“I feel ready. I know what I need to do. I’m just staying focused for the four years ahead,” he said. “But I look for so much more success than being an Olympic hopeful. I hope to affect my community and inspire those that help me become one to inspire.”