Alexis (far right) on the podium at the Roxy Chicken Jam Europe.
etnies Girl snowboarder Alexis Waite broke her face during practice at the 2005 Winter X Games and, in the process, conquered her fear. Read on for her inspirational story.
With every snowboard season comes new and demanding challenges. This year was no exception for me. The season started out amazingly well: early snow in Utah, backcountry snowmobile trips filming for Misschief Films with friends and lots of pushing my limits. I had this newfound drive and focus to RIDE all the time. It was awesome! Into January it just kept getting better, and I was getting anxious for the X Games just to hurry up and come. I was really excited for them because I was riding so well and I kept having this recurring dream where I was standing on that podium. It was weird—I don't normally dream about snowboard contests.
“I realized that when I touched my face I couldn't feel a thing.”
So there I was at end of January, riding the X Games slopestyle course and figuring out the speeds for the jumps. It was practice day and the course was complicated. The "$$$ Booter," the last and biggest jump in the course, had a crazy last minute kick on the takeoff. It was scary, but it was the finale jump right into the crowd and the judges, so it had to be done well. I wanted to get my contest run dialed in practice so, despite my inner voice telling me to be careful of this jump, I went for a backside 540, the trick I had planned for the contest. I am sure you have figured out by now that it didn't work out so well and—“Ta da!”—you guessed correctly. That kick kicked me into a completely inverted 450 and my first point of contact to the landing was my face on this 65-foot icy knuckle of the jump.
With a spinning head and throbbing face, I frantically checked to see how many teeth I had left (luckily all of them) and for blood, before using all of my willpower to pull myself up and ride to the bottom of the slope. I was out of it, but luckily ESPN’s medical staff ran to me and escorted me to first aid. I was so dizzy that I couldn't walk myself. They put me on a stretcher and my head stopped spinning so much, but then I realized that when I touched my face I couldn't feel a thing.
Acupuncture helped bring the feeling back into Alexis’ face.
Normally, when you smack yourself the initial pain starts to subside within five minutes or so. But with this nasty, swollen shut black eye, the pain and pressure kept getting stronger as I lay on the stretcher, answering questions between sessions of dry heaving because I was so incredibly nauseous. Luckily, my friend Gretchen (Bleiler) was there, so I had a familiar face with me. Unfortunately, she too had suffered a head injury, but it was OK—she ended up winning the halfpipe two days later. Within 30 minutes of my accident, Leanne (Pelosi) and Erin (Comstock) rushed in to check on me, after hearing what had happened. By this time, I was feeling awful and I kept asking Leanne how she was so tough because she has this amazing ability always to hit her face and get black eyes but be fine. The question that kept spinning around in my fuzzy brain—"How hurt am I?!"— was finally answered when I tried to blow my running nose and I let out a scream of pure and unexpected terror. The pressure of blowing my nose felt like a knife coming through my head, and I knew I was messed up when the snot didn't come out of my nose but out of my eye socket! This was soooooo gross, and at that moment I heard the ski patrollers radioing in for an ambulance to take me to the hospital.
Finally, at the hospital, I had some oxygen tubes and the pressure in my face was becoming more bearable. You have to remember that I was in Aspen, Colo., and at about 8,000 feet, it’s really high and the air is thin. After x-rays were taken and my mom and dad had finally found me, I learned that there was a reason why my black eye hurt so bad—it was broken! I fractured both the orbital bone in my eye socket and my cheekbone, and was told I needed surgery. I then let myself cry, not from the pain because the worst was already over, but just from the frustration. I couldn't ride in the contest for sure and I needed surgery—AAAAAHHHHHH!
So yep, there I was, in Aspen, Colo., watching my friends compete in perfect conditions at the 2005 Winter X Games without me, as I waited for surgery. I was supposed to get a plate put in my eye socket and have the tissues that were falling into my sinuses pulled out. It sounded nasty. I also could barely eat or drink because all the nerve damage I had inflicted on myself. The whole right side of my face felt as if it has been injected with Novocain (even my teeth and gums). I couldn't tell if my nose was running or if I had food all over; there was no sensation at all and the doctors said there was a strong possibility that it would be permanent. Yikes! It was fun to cheer everybody on and see the X Games from a new perspective (as a spectator), but honestly it sucked! My parents and brothers all came out and they didn't even get to see me compete, which would have been their first time. I was sad.
I went home to Seattle after the event to recover and do a million follow up appointments. The good thing is that I ended up not needing surgery after all because I was naturally healing amazingly well. (I take lots of vitamins.) My next step was acupuncture and within three visits of having 20 plus needles sticking out of my face, the feeling was starting to come back. It was amazing! I forgot to mention that I also broke my wrist in this crash, but the facial injury pain overpowered the wrist pain. I found out it was broken three days later, but it was pretty minor.
I was back on my snowboard three weeks later, and straight back into the Gravity Games. I think I came in about seventh in slopestyle. I then did the U.S. Open in March, where I ended up getting best trick in the rail contest. In April, I competed in the Roxy Chicken Jam Europe in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and made podium (third in slopestyle), about which I am very pleased.
So in snowboarding seasons, like in life, there are always ups, downs, complications and triumphs, but all that matters is that you take something away from it all. I lost some feeling but I definitely found some courage, which is more important in the end. I also find that when you take bad falls and live through it, you realize that it wasn't so bad after all. It's kind of weird, but I am less afraid now that I have experienced a pretty big fear of mine: breaking my face. So I guess my dream didn't come true—I wasn't on the podium at the X Games—but I was on other podiums after that. Coming back after a tough injury makes me feel even better about those achievements. All in all, this season has been the best of my life and I wouldn't change anything!
By the way, don't forget to pick up a copy this fall of the all-girl snowboard film we have been working on all year, Misschief! Oh yeah, and if you run into me someday and my nose is dripping or I have food on my face, I probably don't know and I would really appreciate being informed—THANKS!