Two years after head injury nearly took his life, 15-year-old snowboarder Jake Canter competes at X Games
All that stood between Jake Canter and his dream of competing in the X Games was remembering his Social Security number.
It was last Friday when the 15-year-old Canter had his father, Carl, drop him off at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen. Canter, a U.S. Snowboard Rookie Team rider, was initially there just to hang out.
Then, on Saturday, that all changed when one of Canter’s childhood snowboarding idols, Mark McMorris, dropped out of an X Games competition. Late Saturday afternoon, the Canadian star McMorris was fresh off of winning the X Games snowboard slopestyle competition in thrilling fashion. Riding high on the victory, McMorris opted out of the X Games’ inaugural “Knuckle Huck” competition, which was scheduled to begin a couple of hours later. So he turned to Canter and told him that he could take his spot.
“I’m like, ‘holy, this is really happening,’” Canter said.
With that news, the clock was officially ticking on Canter to gather the requisite information and paperwork to compete. At first, Canter’s father didn’t believe him. It was only a couple of picture texts of his son’s competition bib, credential and paperwork that convinced him.
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Once Canter corralled that final required detail, his Social Security number, he was slated to not only compete in the Knuckle Huck, but to be the first to drop in. That meant the Silverthorne resident, effectively, would lead a crew of the world’s best snowboarders down the big air course at Buttermilk.
Riding behind Canter were snowboarders he looked up to, including Olympic slopestyle gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg and Red Gerard.
Canter described the sudden nerves before the competition as the most extreme he’s felt in his young snowboarding life. It was a mainstream moment where even his extended family members back in Wisconsin tuned in to watch, despite their scant knowledge of the sport. After he landed his first trick, Canter smiled wide at the bottom of the course.
“It was definitely the best contest I could have ever done to debut at X Games,” Canter said.
Despite his youth, it was also a major achievement for Canter. Just two years prior he suffered an injury that nearly ended his life.
It was early in the 2016-17 winter season when Canter’s life was altered by an accident while practicing on a trampoline at Woodward at Copper at Copper Mountain Resort. As a kid, one of Canter’s favorite places in the world were Woodward’s indoor trampolines, where he’d go each day after he finished up riding on the mountain.
The accident occurred when another athlete on a neighboring trampoline lost his bearings in mid-air and collided with Canter. It resulted in a fractured skull, a traumatic head injury and a brain bleed. The injury forced Canter to stay off snow for a few months. Then, in the spring of 2017, the trampolining injury resulted in an even more serious health concern for Canter.Canter said spinal fluid was leaking due to the injury. The leakage, he said, led to bacterial meningitis. He and his family first realized something was wrong when a terrible two-week-long ear ache left Canter vomiting and then unconscious in his bedroom.
Canter’s family brought him to a hospital in the Denver area where doctors put him into a medically-induced coma.
“I had no clue until I woke up and I thought I was dead,” Canter said.
While he was in the coma, doctors adhered breathing tubes to Canter’s nose and throat and connected several IVs to his body. It was so bad that Canter said the doctors told his parents that he had a 20-percent chance of surviving. At one point, his family brought a priest into his hospital room.
When he groggily woke up from the coma on his sixth day in the hospital, Canter could barely see. But what he could view were the elated reactions of his parents and the doctors.
The next day, Canter had no issues walking around the hospital. Doctors were surprised at how quickly Canter was recovering, as they expected him to be in the hospital for two more weeks. But just two days after he woke up from the coma, Canter was released from the hospital. And a day after that, he grabbed his skateboard to get back to riding.
It wasn’t until August of 2017 when Canter returned to snow for the first time. That came right after he had his ear drum removed due to an infection stemming from the meningitis. The injury left Canter fully deaf in his right ear. But that didn’t leave him too down to enjoy that first time snowboarding again in New Zealand.View this post on Instagram
“When big things happen like that to you,” Canter said, “I don’t know, everything feels so surreal.”
Despite the injury, Canter said his balance for snowboarding wasn’t affected. Still able to compete in the sport he loved, Canter transitioned into a 2017-18 season, where he continued his progression as one of the country’s most talented young halfpipe snowboarders.
It was a successful season in the pipe for Canter, concluding with his victory in March of 2018 at the Burton U.S. Open Junior Jam, an annual competition that pits some of the world’s best young riders against each other.
Despite his success in the halfpipe, Canter had a change of heart later in 2018 after he learned bigger tricks on the slopestyle jumps in Saas-Fe, Switzerland. During the later half of 2018, Canter expressed to his U.S. Rookie Team coaches and sponsors, such as Burton and Red Bull, that he wanted to change disciplines. He said the coaches and sponsors were hesitant at first, trying to convince him to stick to halfpipe.
“But I knew in my heart I wanted to do slopestyle,” he said.
The perspectives of his coaches and sponsors changed quite a bit when Canter won a post-Christmas Rev Tour Elite Nor-Am slopestyle competition in New Hampshire. And, after a few more events this season, Canter sits in first place in the tour’s slopestyle standings. If he concludes the season in the top two, he gets an automatic berth to compete in World Cup slopestyle competitions next season.
Two years after Canter suffered that traumatic head injury at Copper, it was Woodward that helped to provide Canter with the experience of a lifetime — riding with Danny Davis.
Davis is the first name Canter says when you ask him about a snowboarder he idolized as a child. So when the youngster had the opportunity to tag along with the snowboarding star in early January, he soaked it all in. As Davis dialed in tricks ahead of his bronze-medal performance at the X Games, Canter played shadow to his 30-year-old hero. When on the chairlift, Davis asked Canter about typical things, like how school was going. When riding, Davis helped Canter to improve his tricks, offering up tips such as how to spot his landings and when to grab his board to maximize rotational force.
But the main thing Canter took from Davis is to have conviction on a snowboard. Harboring that newfound confidence after his health scare, Canter is excited to follow in the snowboard tracks of predecessors like Davis and reach his ultimate goal: to compete at the Olympics.
“He’s so confident in his riding,” Canter said of Davis, “Even if he doesn’t land something right away, he gets back up and tries and tries and tries. His work ethic is just amazing. It was a dream.”
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