‘Do not let me die': Olympic skier Aaron Blunck details halfpipe crash aftermath
Olympic halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck lacerated a kidney, broke ribs, fractured his pelvis and even bruised his heart. Before he learned all that, he thought it could have been much worse.
Blunck, the reigning world champion, shared video of a preseason training crash in Switzerland last month, when he was working on a switch double cork 1440. The 24-year-old from Colorado previously landed it in practice, but no skier has ever landed the trick in halfpipe competition.
Blunck lifted out of the halfpipe and flipped twice while spinning before striking the lip of the pipe on the way down. His shoulder smacked the snow first. One of his skis detached as he fell into the flat bottom.
“The first thing I remember was the pain,” Blunck said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “I just shut my eyes, and I was just screaming in immediate, horrible pain, and thinking to myself, ‘This is bad. This is really not good.’ And I knew if I was already in that much pain after having so much adrenaline just before the crash …honestly, it crossed my mind that I might die.”
U.S. coach Mike Riddle stopped filming Blunck’s run from the opposite lip and rushed to him.
“I had grabbed Riddle’s hand, and I was just like, ‘Do not let me die. Do not let me die. But if I do die, tell everyone that I love skiing, I love my fiancée, and I love my family and friends. Tell them that,’” Blunck said, according to FIS. “So I laid there just trying to breathe, thinking how bad it was, in the worst pain I could ever imagine. … I pretty much felt like I was on my way to a body bag.”
Riddle said Blunck’s quote might not have been verbatim, as he remembered it, but the sentiment was accurate.
“He knew he was hurt and gave me his fiancée’s number and told me to have it just in case,” Riddle, the 2014 Olympic ski halfpipe silver medalist for Canada, wrote in an email Wednesday. “He was getting loaded onto a helicopter and was a little panicked; as I was myself.”
Blunck said that, after a few minutes, he tried to tell those with him that he was OK, though he felt significant injuries. They forced him to load into a helicopter to be flown to a hospital.
Swiss doctors said he had a broken rib and kidney laceration. Blunck returned to the U.S., where he was diagnosed with more serious injuries and told by one doctor, “You are so lucky to be alive. Like, beyond lucky to be alive,” according to FIS.
“The doc said that typically it would be a six-month recovery for most people, but she understood who I am as a person and an athlete, and she understands athletes, and she’s pretty sure they’re going to have me back on snow in six weeks,” Blunck said.
He could return in time for significant contests in February -- the first 2022 Olympic qualifier in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., and the world championships in the 2022 Olympic host nation China. Blunck finished seventh at the Olympics in 2014 and 2018.
“After having a crash as serious as the one I had, now I just want to ski for the sake of skiing,” he said. “I don’t want to worry about impressing the judges, I don’t want to focus on winning the contest. I just want to do the best that Aaron Blunck can do.”
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