Sebastien Toutant felt a painful sting in his rib cage that took his breath away the moment he crashed down hard at the bottom of the X Games slopestyle course in Aspen last week.
The Canadian snowboarder was sure he had broken some ribs — a diagnosis that was confirmed at an Aspen hospital shortly after — but he was already making plans to get back on the slopes before the end of the season.
"There's a lot of people out there when they get injured it makes them push on the brakes, they're scared to do it again, but for me it's the opposite," Toutant said in a phone interview Wednesday from his Montreal home. "When I get injured, it makes me miss snowboarding. It makes me think about how lucky I am to be doing this every day and I think that's super important.
"You start reflecting on what you did and thinking about stuff you can do better, and you want it so bad that it gives you back any motivation that maybe you (lost) over time."
The l'Assomption, Que., native, went into the X Games on a wave of confidence following a gold-medal win at a World Cup in Switzerland a week before.
But he didn't make it to the final in Aspen, crashing on his third of three qualifying runs — on his last jump in an otherwise solid routine — last Thursday.
Toutant was sitting in a disappointing 14th place after the first two runs and felt pressure to nail his last one in an effort to make the final. But grey skies limited visibility and a wet snowfall accumulating by the minute made the course much more challenging.
"I was trying a backside 1440 triple cork, which is a trick I have down pretty well," Toutant said. "It's a hard trick but it's not my hardest, and I think with the conditions and lack of speed and not being able to really practise it the last two days, it definitely didn't help.
"But it's part of it. It's snowboarding. It could have been worse so I'm pretty lucky."
Toutant broke three ribs on his left side and said others "popped out" on impact. The 27-year-old stayed in an Aspen hospital for a couple days before returning to Montreal on Monday night. He was back in the gym Tuesday, doing some light work to test his boundaries.
While he's not at the level of the elaborate workout techniques he likes to share on social media — featuring home-made obstacle courses with stability balls, plyo boxes, foam rollers and anything else he can jump on or over — Toutant said he's moving well and expects to be competition-ready for the Burton U.S. Open in Vail, Colo., late next month.
"I'm kinda balancing between wanting to push and not wanting to hurt it too much. You want to build from it," he said. "I'm able to do some biking, a little bit of stability stuff. ... It feels good. For me as an athlete to be able to go to the gym and do something, it just makes your rehab way more fun.
"It sucks to be sitting on the couch. Some people break their ribs and can't walk for days so I'm glad I'm able to do something."
Toutant, the reigning Olympic champion in big air, is no stranger to snowboarding injuries.
He's broken his ankles (three times), wrist, jaw and collar bone, separated his shoulder and had other rib injuries in the past.
He also nearly missed the 2018 Olympics when he developed a compressed disc in his lower back the year before. While he said the broken jaw was probably his most painful injury, Toutant called the compressed disc the scariest of his career.
"Every time I was snowboarding, the whole right side of my back was seizing up. I couldn't really move," he said. "At the gym I felt so strong and could do whatever I wanted but as soon as I was on a board, being in the air and grabbing and putting pressure on my lower back, that just wasn't working."
Toutant ultimately worked through that injury with a cortisone injection and came back strong enough to win gold in big air's Olympic debut in Pyeongchang.
Now he's hopeful his trend of solid returns will continue after his latest setback.
"Every time I've gotten injured, I feel like I've come back more motivated than ever," Toutant said. "I want to get back as soon as possible but not just get back, I also want to be stronger and better than before."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2020.
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press