Denny Morrison is back in the Olympics against all odds

Canadian speed skater overcomes motorcycle crash, stroke to take another shot at gold

Denny Morrison is back in the Olympics against all odds
Despite all he's been through, Denny Morrison isn't content to merely compete in the Olympics — he wants to win his first individual gold medal. © Kevin Light Photography/CBC

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

Competing in his fourth and final Olympics, Denny Morrison can finally appreciate all he's accomplished and all he's overcome in his long career — and all the hard work it took to make it possible.

All it took was two life-altering experiences.

"When I was young, I was talented, but I maybe didn't take it as seriously. Now I have to make every day count," says the 32-year-old Canadian speed skater.

Getting to this point has been nothing short of remarkable for Morrison, whose wife, Josie, is also competing on the same oval in Pyeongchang.

The story of Morrison's courageous comeback has been well documented. In early May of 2015, he suffered serious injuries when the motorcycle he was riding crashed into the side of a Toyota Corolla at an intersection in Calgary. He was left with a fractured femur and spine, a torn ACL, a punctured lung, a concussion and damage to his kidneys and liver.

Morrison says he never considered quitting skating. Instead, he started on the long road back to the ice. And if that climb wasn't steep enough, it got considerably tougher nearly a year later when he suffered a stroke.

For most people, the immediate concern would be getting back to full health just to be able to function on a daily basis. Morrison, though, was also focused on rehabbing to get back to skating as soon as possible.

"It seems like all my problems sometimes would be solved if I quit speed skating," he says. "I don't think I'm content. That's the underlying anxiety always there."

But, again, quitting wasn't an option. Morrison spent every waking moment over the months that followed the stroke doing what he had to do to get his body back to full strength — that even included learning how to speak again. 

"I read books aloud in my bedroom, pronouncing every word as clearly as I could," he says.

Inspiring and inspired

When Morrison decided to make one last Olympic push, he also declared to himself that excuses would not and could not creep into his consciousness.

He made lists — small, attainable goals that allowed him to build momentum. There were setbacks, even times when Morrison would spiral into a negative, self-defeating dialogue. In those moments, it was fellow stroke survivors, who Morrison got to know through his work with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, that helped him get back on track.

"I saw how hard they're working and realized, I'm lucky, I'm still here, I had such a mild stroke," Morrison says. "It inspires me. How can I not keep going?"

It works the other way too. Morrison gets messages from stroke survivors saying his success on the ice motivates them.

"If what I'm doing is inspiring people, then that's what this is about," he says.

Still, it's taken a lot out of him to get back to the Olympics after two such devastating setbacks.

"I'm exhausted," admits. "In some ways you're looking forward to it being over."

Bigger, better problems

Morrison has always kept the target for himself moving. In 2006, at his first Olympics, he captured a silver medal alongside other Canadian skaters in the team pursuit. Good for a first attempt, but Morrison wanted gold. 

In his second Olympics, in 2010, Morrison captured gold in the team pursuit. Now he wanted an individual medal. He was never content.

"By solving your problems, you just come up with different, bigger and better ones," he says.

Morrison went on to capture not just one but two individual medals in Sochi four years ago — silver in the 1,000 metres and bronze in the 1,500.

Naturally then, the next bigger, better problem for him to solve is capping off his improbable comeback by winning an individual Olympic gold medal in the 1,500.

"It's as simple as having a really good race," he says. "That's never changed. But really good races are harder to come by now.

"I'm determined, though. I will never quit."

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