Snow­boarder’s re­cov­ery putting him on track as Olympic hope­ful

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Meyer

vail » Eleven years later, Steven MacCutche on re­calls the strange sen­sa­tion he felt while soar­ing and fall­ing 30 feet in a boardercross ac­ci­dent at Cop­per Moun­tain be­fore land­ing on his head, suf­fer­ing a trau­matic brain in­jury that nearly killed him.

His sur­vival was so im­prob­a­ble, the Vail na­tive and his fam­ily re­gard it as mirac­u­lous. He­would leave the sport for six years, be­liev­ing his Olympic dream to be gone. Nowhe’s com­pet­ing again in hopes of mak­ing the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and if he gets there, he wants to share his “mir­a­cle” with the world.

Mac Cutche on was 17 years old the day of the ac­ci­dent— April 6, 2005.

“I re­mem­ber fall­ing, and it­was a pretty amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” MacCutcheon said. “I’m a strong Chris­tian, and I felt like it was God’s hand pulling me slowly down. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t a fear­ful

“I’m learn­ing it’s not about mak­ing it some­where, it’s about the story I can com­mu­ni­cate to oth­ers to bring hope and joy into their lives.” Snow­boarder Steven MacCutcheon, on re­turn­ing to his sport years af­ter a trau­matic brain in­jury

ex­pe­ri­ence, I felt like I was held in some­body’s hand, be­ing brought down.”

The peace he felt be­fore be­ing knocked un­con­scious was fol­lowed by ur­gent ef­forts to save his life. His mother, Pam, was hav­ing lunch in the base area when she got the news that some­thing ter­ri­ble hap­pened to her son.

“Afriend of his came run­ning in and said, ‘We need you out here,’ ” Pam said. “I heard some girl say, ‘I don’t think he made it.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, Lord, help me.’ I’m just cry­ing out to the Lord, like, ‘You’ve got to give me strength.’ ”

Steven had to be re­sus­ci­tated at the site of the crash and was placed in a med­i­cally in­duced coma in the clinic at Cop­per. He­was re­sus­ci­tated two more times on the Flight for Life trip to the old St. An­thony Hos­pi­tal in Den­ver. When they cut off his race suit, they found the Amer­i­can flag Steven al­ways car­ried when he raced to honor his grand­fa­ther, an Iwo Jima sur­vivor.

“The Flight for Life guy folded the flag in the trauma room, gave it to me and said, ‘I’m so sorry,’ ” Pam said.

It’s no won­der he thought Steven wasn’t go­ing to make it. MacCutcheon had suf­fered two brain hem­or­rhages, which seemed cer­tain to cause swelling of his brain. Doc­tors were pre­pared to drill holes into his skull to re­lieve pres­sure when Steven sud­denly sat up. Later, as he slept while fam­i­ly­mem­bers sur­rounded him in prayer, an­other amaz­ing thing hap­pened.

“We were say­ing, ‘Steven, we have so many years ahead of us,’ ” Pam re­called. “A lit­tle tear came down (from) his eye. Then he opened his eyes. They asked him if he knew his phone num­ber, his name — he knew ev­ery­thing.”

In ad­di­tion to the brain hem­or­rhages, Steven had suf­fered a “shear” in­jury. One hemi­sphere of his brain moved more than the other, dis­turb­ing con­nec­tions be­tween the two.

“Even though Iwas sit­ting up, talk­ing, ap­par­ently it was very lim­ited and it wasn’t like I was mak­ing any sense,” said Steven, 28. “There­was still a fear ofwhat the fu­ture would hold, but it was def­i­nitely God’s in­ter­ven­tion to save me.”

He never had any swelling of the brain but faced a long, hard re­cov­ery. He re­quired home care with a speech ther­a­pist. It was hard for him to speak, to come up with the right words even though he knew what he wanted to say.

“The high­light reel was def­i­nitely in the hos­pi­tal, wak­ing up, but then ev­ery­thing kind of hit true rock bot­tom in my life,” Steven said.

He had shat­tered his right shoul­der and torn the ro­ta­tor cuff. That had to be sur­gi­cally re­paired, so he couldn’t snow­board the fol­low­ing win­ter.

“I was re­ally de­pressed,” Steven said. “It was April when the ac­ci­dent hap­pened. I made it through the sum­mer, but as win­ter was ap­proach­ing, Iwas very, very up­set be­cause I was not pre­par­ing for snow­board­ing. Iwas on a lot of med­i­ca­tions, too. They were afraid of seizures and a lot of things that hap­pen af­ter a trau­matic brain in­jury. I was pretty med­i­cated. That was chal­leng­ing in it­self, be­cause it led me into a dark road.”

He moved with his fam­ily to South Carolina, where his grand­par­ents lived, think­ing it would be bet­ter to be far from snow, but that made things worse.

“I was away from snow, which was good, but I didn’t have any pas­sions to ful­fill th­ese Olympic-sized dreams I had,” he said. “I was known in the Vail Val­ley as an as­pir­ing Olympian. Next thing I know, I’m sit­ting in a chair play­ing video games, think­ing about the old days when I could do that.”

He found an out­let in mu­sic, dis­cov­er­ing a tal­ent for key­boards he never knew he had. Soon he was play­ing with the wor­ship band at a church in Myr­tle Beach.

“I thought, ‘OK, this is what I’m do­ing. God has re­placed my am­bi­tion for snow­board­ing, he’s put this am­bi­tion of mu­sic in my heart now, so I’m go­ing down this road.’ ”

He moved back to Vail. When Chris­tian mu­si­cian John David Web­ster came to town for a con­cert, Steven got to play for him. Web­ster was im­pressed, of­fer­ing to record Steven and his brother at his home stu­dio in In­di­ana. Soon Steven was liv­ing in In­di­ana, play­ing with Web­ster’s band.

Then Web­ster took a job as the mu­sic leader at Cal­vary Chapel in Ed­wards and Steven moved back to Vail for the se­cond time. Steven still thought he­was through as a com­pet­i­tive snow­boarder, but that changed one day when he and Web­ster went snow­board­ing for fun. Web­ster was blown away by the way Steven ripped that moun­tain.

“He was like, ‘You’re a good key­board player, but snow­board­ing is your gift. No­body else can snow­board like you,’ ” Steven said.

That­was 2011, six years af­ter the ac­ci­dent. Steven got a brain scan, which showed his brain was com­pletely nor­mal, so he got the go-ahead to com­pete again.

“If that’s not true con­fir­ma­tion of the mir­a­cle and the di­rec­tion of the story for (God’s) glory, I don’t knowwhat is,” Steven said. “I’m just a guy who fell on his head.”

He had to work his way up, but in 2013 he earned his first-ever World Cup start, ful­fill­ing a child­hood dream. He didn’t qual­ify for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but last sea­son he had four podium fin­ishes in NorAm Cup races. He got mar­ried in Au­gust, and in De­cem­ber he claimed his first NorAm vic­tory in a race at Buck Hill, Minn.

“I’m learn­ing it’s not about mak­ing it some­where, it’s about the story I can com­mu­ni­cate to oth­ers to bring hope and joy into their lives,” Steven said. “To see peo­ple who are dow­nand re­al­ize, ‘Iwas there once, too,’ I can re­late, I can com­mu­ni­cate in a much grander way.”

He would love to make the Olympics to rep­re­sent his coun­try and “fight for a medal” to honor his grand­fa­ther’s ser­vice. But there’s more.

“I have th­ese dreams of be­ing there, hav­ing my fam­ily there, hav­ing the peo­ple who were there the day of my ac­ci­dent, watch­ing the im­pos­si­ble be­come pos­si­ble, the thing that could never hap­pen hap­pen. That’s what I’m go­ing for, to be­come that in­spi­ra­tion. What­ever comes in life, with the power of prayer, the power of God— I give him all the glory be­cause he’s the one that can em­power th­ese steps to fin­ish the jour­ney set out for you.”

Pro­fes­sional snow­boarder StevenMacCutcheon does a run at Beaver Creek on Thurs­day. He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

StevenMacCutcheon, pic­tured at Beaver Creek, had four podium fin­ishes in NorAm Cup races last sea­son. He got­mar­ried in Au­gust.

StevenMacCutcheon­would love tomake the Olympics to rep­re­sent his coun­try and “fight for amedal” to honor his grand­fa­ther’s ser­vice. He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

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