winter olympics

2022 Winter Olympians Describe Their Near-Death Experiences

These five winter athletes stared death in the eye and lived to tell the story

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Whether it's the extreme speed of skiing, the razor-sharp edges of speed skating or the death-defying tricks mid-air in snowboarding, danger seems to be an inevitability at the Winter Olympics.

Nothing speaks more to the vulnerability Winter Olympians face than the fact one in eight athletes suffered some form of injury at the 2018 Winter Olympics. And if that wasn't enough, the quadrennial winter competition has claimed four lives over the last century.

Years spent training and preparing to compete against the best in the world can be snatched away from an athlete in an instant. Successfully climbing back from that adversity is never a given, with some athletes succumbing to the hazardous natures of their respective sports.

Here's a look at five winter athletes that have stared death in the eye and how they persevered to overcome their setback: 

Hannah Halvorsen, American Cross-Country Skier 

Hannah Halvorsen, 23, is headed to her first Winter Olympics after a remarkable comeback from a car accident in November 2019.

Halvorsen, a California native who currently resides in Alaska, was crossing a street in downtown Anchorage when her body flew on the hood of a Jeep and crashed to the ground when the driver braked, causing her to suffer a traumatic brain injury. Halvorsen also suffered a skull fracture, bleeding and bruising of the brain, a tibia fracture and off-the-bone MCL and PCL tears.

After a whirlwind of a recovery, Halvorsen will be competing for Team USA in the freestyle sprint in Beijing.

Halvorsen begins her journey to gold medal podium at Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 3 a.m. ET.

Stephen O’Mara, Irish Cross-Country Skier 

Qualifying for the 2022 Winter Olympics would’ve had more meaning for Stephen O’Mara after he suffered a deadly accident while racing in the Donner Lake Triathlon in August 2019.

The 39-year-old was on the bike when a dog “apparently” jumped out of a car, O’Mara recollected.

"Things were going well until apparently, a dog jumped out of a car while I was on the bike. I say 'apparently' because I woke up in a hospital in Reno," he said.

Although O’Mara did not collide with the dog, he was still left with broken ribs, a displaced hip, abrasions and a brain injury that was detected three months later.

Cross-country skier Stephen O’Mara has always been passionate about endurance sports. But when he sustained a traumatic brain injury during a 2019 triathlon, doctors feared the elite athlete may have to relearn everything— even walking.

O’Mara, who lives in California, had his hopes crushed when he unexpectedly found out that he was not nominated to compete in Beijing despite posting qualifying times last year. It is unclear as to why the Snowsports Association of Ireland (SAI) made the decision. According to reports, SAI will be forfeiting two places for cross-country events to another country. 

Colby Stevenson, American Freestyle Skier

Colby Stevenson wasn’t sure if he would ever ski again after getting into a car accident that left him fighting for his life in May 2016.

Stevenson, 24, fell asleep at the wheel while driving his friend’s truck when he crashed, causing him severe brain injury, a shattered skull, a broken eye socket and ribs. Stevenson was put in a medically-induced coma for three days.

“I’m in the one percent of people that have this type of skull fracture and no brain damage,” Stevenson said in a My New Favorite Olympian podcast episode. “My brain swelled eight millimeters, and at nine millimeters is when brain damage starts.”

Stevenson suffered from memory loss and decision-making difficulties but said there was never a moment he thought about giving up his passion for skiing.

Less than nine months later, Stevenson persevered to win a World Cup, the X Games Slopestyle in 2020 and a silver medal at the 2021 World Championships. Now, he has qualified for the 2022 Winter Olympics

Stevenson begins his Olympic quest in the Men’s Moguls Qualification 1 at Genting Snow Park A & M Stadium on Thursday, Feb. 3, at 6:45 a.m. ET.

Brock Crouch, American Snowboarder

Brock Crouch was buried alive beneath an avalanche in Canada for five minutes before being rescued.

In April 2018, Brock “was swept off an 80-foot cliff” while snowboarding and fractured in his T12, L1 and L2 vertebrae. Crouch’s pancreas was also ruptured, the bone between his nose and mouth shattered and all of his front teeth had been knocked out.

Since his near-death experience, the 18-year-old California native has been riding better than ever. Crouch did not qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics but has discovered a new appreciation for the sport he loves.

Aaron “A.J.” Muss, American Snowboarder

What was supposed to be a routine shoulder surgery turned into a rare and life-threatening postoperative complication for 27-year-old Aaron A.J. Muss.

In 2014, Muss dislocated his shoulder after his arm got caught in a gate. The surgery, which was scheduled in April 2015, went according to plan until he was discharged from the hospital and went into postoperative pulmonary edema, causing his lungs to fill with fluid.

Muss was diagnosed with atrial septal defect (ASD), a birth defect that forms a hole between the chambers of the heart, which is believed to have caused the complication.

Muss decided to forgo an operation to repair his heart, which allowed him to continue competitive snowboarding as long as he agreed to regular checkups with a cardiologist.

Since the scare, the New Jersey native represented Team USA at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and has taken several first place titles in competition.

In 2018, Muss began pursuing his passion for auto racing, competing in Formula D. Instead of competing at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Muss will be riding at the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge teams battle held in Daytona, Fla.

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