Luke Mitrani

Luke Mitrani fortunate to be ‘alive and breathing’ after breaking neck in snowboarding crash

Leave a comment

Luke Mitrani was paralyzed for two minutes.

He lay near the bottom of a sun-soaked 22-foot-high halfpipe, unable to feel his arms or legs. He feared trying to move his neck.

“There was a moment where I really thought I could have died,” Mitrani said.

Mitrani, 23, aborted a frontside double cork 1080 in snowboard training and crashed in Cardrona, New Zealand, at about 9:45 a.m. on Sept. 1. It marked another life-altering injury in an Olympic sport growing not only in popularity and scope, but also in amplitude and scrutiny.

Airborne, Mitrani appeared to give up after the first of a planned three flips, tomahawked back into the halfpipe and landed on his head, shoulder and back almost at the base of the pipe.

“He basically did a 30-foot free fall,” U.S. Snowboarding coach Rick Bower said.

2010 Olympian Greg Bretz watched Mitrani’s trick from the top of the halfpipe. Mitrani was near the bottom, about 200 feet away, but Bretz noticed the danger when Mitrani tried to stop his rotation after that first flip. He bolted down the halfpipe before Mitrani crashed on the snow.

“I’ve seen it before,” Bretz said. “I was there when Kevin did his thing.”

On New Year’s Eve 2009, U.S. Olympic contender Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury when a double cork 1260 went awry and he landed on his face. Just before, Pearce had beaten Mitrani in rock, paper, scissors to determine who would drop into the Park City, Utah, halfpipe first.

“With Kev, we didn’t know what the hell was going on,” said friend Danny Davis, a snowboarder who broke his femur in last year’s New Zealand trip. “At least with Squid we knew he was alive.”

Mitrani is known as “Squid,” his Halo video-game handle, to his pals, a group of snowboarders deemed “FRENDS” (there’s no “I” in friendship). The group includes Pearce, Bretz, Davis and Mitrani’s older brother, Jack. Mitrani’s Twitter bio reads, “Just another fish in the sea.”

Q&A with Kevin Pearce on his documentary, Sochi plans, more

Seconds after Mitrani hit the snow, Bretz and Mitrani’s girlfriend were the first to arrive. News spread. So did silence as more gathered.

“He was straight-faced,” Davis said. “You could tell he was getting in touch with his … in the zone.”

Mitrani told them his whole body tingled and he couldn’t feel his feet.

“It felt like everything seriously stopped,” said Mitrani, who practices Buddhism and can do a standing back flip, in a phone interview as his mom drove him from his house in Fallbrook, Calif., to San Diego. “It almost felt like I was floating in this weird … everything was vibrating. I didn’t know what was hurting. I was really confused. I’ve never been in a state of being that, almost like a dream state. I was so confused. When you hit your spinal cord like that everything kind of shuts down.”

His body eventually rebooted enough so that Bretz felt comfortable unhitching Mitrani from his snowboard.

“I remember my finger, then building on that,” Mitrani said. “It was the most relieving feeling.”

Coach Bower did not see the accident. He was working with another athlete at the top of the halfpipe, reviewing video of a run on a tablet. Bretz called him down.

“My first reaction?” Bower said. “I was really scared, obviously. We’ve had some nasty wrecks over the years with Kevin Pearce’s traumatic brain injury, some broken bones and stuff. This was the first time someone had sustained a serious neck injury when they were suddenly paralyzed.

“That was terrifying.”

Mitrani was placed on a backboard and dragged via snowmobile to the ski patrol station. He was grateful as he regained feeling in his arms, bent his knees and wiggled his feet.

He flew two hours on a helicopter to Christchurch, where a radiograph showed damage to the C5 vertebra in his neck. In surgery, his C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae were fused together with the aid of a plate and a piece of bone from his hip.

Mitrani spent two weeks hospitalized in New Zealand. One week was in a spinal unit, where all of his peers were in wheelchairs. He was too scared to sleep the first two nights. He heard the din of older patients with breathing problems.

“I would feel that tingling sensation in my legs and my hands,” Mitrani said. “The drugs, everything, I was paranoid. I was really not myself.”

His brother, Jack, and his mom flew to New Zealand. Mitrani couldn’t eat solid food because of throat swelling, so Jack bought a juicer.

Mitrani was very, very fortunate. He can walk now, he can shed his neck brace by year’s end and snowboard again in six to 12 months.

Mitrani was one of the first men to incorporate double corks when the trick became a must-have before the 2010 Olympics. He learned it without an air bag or safety equipment.

In 2009, he escaped serious injury from a double cork when he slammed his face on the lip of a halfpipe.

With repetition he became so comfortable with it that, earlier this year, he laid out instructions for how to do a frontside double cork 1080 in a YouTube video with explicit language. His main tip was an explicit acronym: “yolofish.”

Mitrani has said he’s broken “every bone” in his body and ruptured a spleen during a painful and precocious career. He turned pro at 10, had sponsorships with Mountain Dew and Lego shortly after losing his last baby tooth and was probably the most talented man left off the 2010 Olympic team.

Mitrani said he felt better than ever this past season, when the master of flips jumped to fifth in the World Snowboard Tour rankings with two Sprint U.S. Grand Prix podiums. He was on the short list of contenders to make the 2014 Olympic team but tried not to dwell on Sochi.

“He would be a lot more successful as a competitor if he was more focused on winning, if he had that drive that Shaun White has,” Bower said. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. He just doesn’t have that.”

Shaun White an Emmy hit on Twitter

Mitrani said he was told his neck is now more vulnerable, more fragile, more susceptible to irreparable damage if he crashes again. He’s spoken with Pearce, who at first was determined to snowboard again but changed his mind after emotional talks with his family. Mitrani is not ready to give up the sport.

“It’s definitely going to be scary to go back to snowboarding, but like everything, you take baby steps,” Mitrani said. “Snowboarding’s part of my life.”

Pearce didn’t say whether he thinks Mitrani should get back on the board.

“I put it into much better perspective for him to understand what I’m dealing with now,” Pearce said. “Obviously, they’re totally different injuries. He can really understand what I have going on with being not able to do this sport that we love so much.

“He’s going to have to find out where he’s at and how fragile his spine is now.”

Bower said he would advise Mitrani not to compete again.

“It’s super risky,” he said. “I wouldn’t within in my right mind. I like the kid too much for something horrible to happen to him.”

The free-spirited Mitrani has plenty to keep his mind off snowboarding in the short term. He spreed at Guitar Center upon flying back to California so he can start a “one-man band.” He said he’s adding chickens to his old-grandma garden of avocados, pears, tomatoes, limes and lemons.

Mitrani can’t drive, but he found a Buddhist temple with Vietnamese monks 4.5 miles from his house. He also found a new appreciation for life.

“I’m alive and breathing, and I’m just very fortunate,” Mitrani said. “It’s a good outcome.”

Details on U.S. Olympic snowboarding qualifiction timeline

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun diagnosed with prostate cancer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will not travel to South Korea for the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The 60-year-old executive sent an email to staff Monday notifying them of his diagnosis and said he would have surgery later this week.

Blackmun is beginning his ninth year as the USOC’s leader.

He said physicians recommended he start treatment as soon as possible, and the treatment could prevent him from traveling to PyeongChang at all.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Team USA Opening Ceremony uniforms have heaters

Joss Christensen left off Olympic team; full U.S. freestyle skiing roster

Joss Christensen
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Joss Christensen, who led a U.S. ski slopestyle podium sweep in Sochi, was left off the 29-athlete team for PyeongChang on Monday.

Christensen attempted to come back from a May ACL tear (with meniscus damage) but was unable to finish on the podium in any of the Olympic qualifiers.

Here’s the full roster:

Aerials
Ashley Caldwell — 2010, 2014 Olympian
Kiley McKinnon
Madison Olsen
Mac Bohonnon — 2014 Olympian
Jonathon Lillis
Eric Loughran

Halfpipe
Maddie Bowman — 2014
Annalisa Drew — 2014
Devin Logan — 2014
Brita Sigourney — 2014
Aaron Blunck — 2014
Alex Ferreira
David Wise — 2014
Torin Yater-Wallace — 2014

Moguls
Tess Johnson
Jaelin Kauf
Keaton McCargo
Morgan Schild
Casey Andringa
Emerson Smith
Troy Murphy
Brad Wilson — 2014

Slopestyle
Caroline Claire
Devin Logan — 2014 (in slopestyle)
Darian Stevens
Maggie Voisin — 2014 (did not compete in Sochi)
Nick Goepper — 2014
Alex Hall
Gus Kenworthy — 2014
McRae Williams

MORE: U.S. Olympic roster now over 200 athletes; full list

In slopestyle, Christensen’s Sochi podium mates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper earned automatic Olympic spots earlier this month.

World champion McRae Williams and Alex Hall got the nods for two spots picked by a committee on Monday. They ranked Nos. 3 and 4 behind Kenworthy and Goepper in Olympic qualifying standings, while Christensen was eighth.

Sochi women’s slopestyle silver medalist Devin Logan became the first American to make an Olympic team in two different freestyle skiing events — slopestyle and halfpipe.

In aerials, 2017 World champions Ashley Caldwell and Jonathon Lillis were added to the team Monday. So were Mac BohonnonEric Loughran and Madison Olsen.

Kiley McKinnon was the only aerialist to automatically qualify earlier this month.

Caldwell is going to her third Olympics. She finished 10th in 2010 and 2014, competing in the former as the youngest U.S. athlete across all sports as a 16-year-old.

Last season, Caldwell added her first world title to a resume that already included six World Cup victories and the 2016 World Cup season title. She finished third, seventh, ninth, 13th and 31st in five World Cups so far this season.

Lillis, 23, is going to his first Olympics. He won last season’s world title in a huge surprise, having never won a World Cup event (and only finishing on the podium once before). He has a best finish of sixth in six World Cup events this season.

McKinnon and Bohonnon swept the World Cup season titles in 2015. They also went to elementary school together in Connecticut.

Six of the eight halfpipe skiers qualified earlier this season. The additions Monday were Annalisa Drew and Aaron Blunck, who were the top performers from Olympic qualifiers who didn’t clinch automatic spots.

The halfpipe team is the exact same as in Sochi except for Alex Ferreira replacing Lyman Currier.

Maddie Bowman and David Wise are the defending Olympic gold medalists from the event that debuted in Sochi.

Of the eight moguls skiers, only Brad Wilson has Olympic experience, finishing 20th in Sochi.

The top medal hope is Jaelin Kauf, a 21-year-old daughter of two moguls skiers. Kauf qualified automatically for the Olympic team earlier this month and leads the World Cups standings.

Andringa is a great story. The 22-year-old lived in a tent with his brother in Steamboat Springs, Colo., this summer to supplement training costs. He raced World Cup for the first time on Jan. 6 and placed seventh and fifth in his first two starts to earn a spot on the team.

The top U.S. moguls skier the last two Olympics — Hannah Kearney — retired in 2015.

The U.S. is not sending a ski cross racer to the Olympics for the first time. The event debuted in 2010, and the U.S. has never earned a medal.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Team USA Opening Ceremony uniforms have heaters