CALGARY — Denny Morrison came back from a broken left leg to win Olympic speedskating medals. He’ll need all that resilience and more on the road to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Prior to breaking his right leg and sustaining numerous other injuries in a motorcycle accident May 7 in Calgary, the three-time Olympian was in New Zealand preparing to climb a mountain in Tongariro National Park.
Guides and hotel staff told him not to do it because it would be a wet, stormy and miserable experience that day. Morrison climbed it anyway.
“I said ‘it doesn’t matter what the conditions are. I’m going to take one step towards the top and continue that over and over and over until I get there,'” Morrison said. “I compare that to the recovery from this and working towards Pyeonchang.
“I have a smashed up femur and a few internal injuries. It could be a little bit miserable for awhile, but I tell you hiking that mountain and making it to the top and coming back down and proving to naysayers I made it anyway, kind of made it more fun.”
The 29-year-old from Fort St. John, B.C., owns four Olympic medals including a team pursuit gold won in 2010.
Morrison is the current star of Canada’s long-track speedskating team having won its two medals — a silver and a bronze — at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. He broke his left fibula while cross-country skiing just 14 months prior to those Games.
Morrison fell in the 1,000 metres at Canadian trials, but teammate Gilmore Junior vacated his spot in the distance so Morrison could race it in Sochi.
Morrison won silver, Junio became a folk hero in Canada and Morrison put an exclamation mark on the country’s feel-good story of the Games with a bronze in the 1,500 metres.
Morrison will be inducted into B.C.’s Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver on Thursday.
He went to Calgary’s airport Monday evening not to fly to the west coast, but to greet coach Bart Schouten and teammates returning from a training camp in Phoenix, Ariz.
His teammates arrived fit and tanned. Morrison was on crutches and his left eye was red with broken blood vessels.
“I think I worried a number of them,” Morrison said. “I just want to see them in person and let them know ‘I’m injured now, but I can’t wait to be back training with you again.'”
Among his assorted injuries was a concussion, a punctured lung, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, bruised liver and kidneys and a small fracture in a bone near his spine.
Schouten visited Morrison in hospital shortly after a titanium rod was surgically inserted into Morrison’s broken femur, but many of his teammates arriving from the U.S. were seeing him for the first time since the accident.
“It must be hard for him not to be there with us,” Ivanie Blondin said. “I think it’s been hard on the whole team not having Denny there to be a mentor for everyone.”
Morrison says he’ll meet soon with his medical staff to chart a course of rehabilitation. Neither Schouten nor Morrison ruled out the possibility the defending World Cup champion in the 1,500 metres could return to racing at some point in the 2015-16 season.
“We’re not going to rush anything or hurry anything to get him back this season,” Schouten said. “If it happens, it happens, but we’re going to make sound decisions with a long-term goal in mind and that’s the Olympics in 2018.”
Morrison’s motorcycle struck a left-turning Toyota Corolla in northwest Calgary and the car was knocked on its side. Morrison was charged with failing to yield to a yellow light, which is a fine of $155. The two people in the car did not require hospitalization.
“I’m really glad to hear they were fine, Morrison said. “I wasn’t super-happy with how the media portrayed the accident in the first few days. They said I was screaming fast, but the investigation showed and witnesses even said I was going with the flow of traffic and was going normal speed.
“Honestly I’m a little bit disappointed that I didn’t avoid the accident altogether. On a motorcycle you’re constantly on guard, constantly in situations where you need to be on your toes. I don’t know if I was checking my mirror or I was in the shadow of the car in front of me.
“I think my last thought was ‘this is upsetting.'”
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press