Miracles happen: Pro snowboarder overcomes disaster to follow dreams
January 6, 2015
Steamboat Springs — From snowboard to keyboard back to snowboard, multiple miracles helped a snowboard pro find his future in music.
When Steve MacCutcheon climbs a podium, he says it's like he's taking the first couple steps toward heaven.
He's a professional snowboarder, so the higher he climbs the podium, the closer to heaven he feels, he said smiling.
He was dead, then he wasn't. His brain was damaged, now it isn't.
He was one of the world's most promising young professional snowboarders, then he wasn't. Now he is again.
He had never played piano, then one day he did and still does.
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But before we can tell you that story, we have to tell you this story.
MacCutcheon was over the moon about finishing second in a FIS North America Cup parallel slalom event in Steamboat Springs last month.
"I had the best snowboard race result of my career," MacCutcheon said of his second place at the second of two Race to the Cup events at Howelsen Hill.
The event drew almost 50 men from five countries as far away at South Korea.
Converse Fields won and A.J. Muss was third to MacCutcheon's second, a rare sweep for the Americans. All three race for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
"I was so honored to be able to get on the podium to represent my sponsor WardJet and the USA," McCutcheon said.
This season's North America Cup series winner earns a personal spot on the World Cup tour next season. Right now, MacCutcheon is third. Three spots make the World Cup.
MacCutcheon knows how high that podium can be, especially when he's viewing it from flat on his back.
Prodigy and tragedy
Steve “Speedy” MacCutcheon started snowboarding as soon as he could walk and was competing by age 8. He won his first national championship at age 11 and began competing professionally at 15.
MacCutcheon soon headed to Europe to represent the United States on the international circuit.
He had won four national championships by the time he was in high school, and he was one of those kids who conceived a trick and said to himself, "Yeah, I can do that." And then he did.
He was working on his fifth national title when his world came crashing down from 30 feet in the air.
MacCutcheon was just 17 and competing in a national championship boardercross event at Copper Mountain that fateful spring day, April 6, 2005. The sky was that striking Colorado blue.
"It feels like a cloudy day for me," Steve said.
In the finals, he flew over a jump, missed a turn and floated in mid-air for as long as a man could. He may have nine lives, but unlike a cat, he did not land on his feet.
MacCutcheon plummeted to Earth, landing on his head from 30 feet in the air.
His brain was hemorrhaging in two places, and his breathing had stopped. The fall shattered his shoulder and broke his elbow. Doctors restarted his breathing and placed him in a medically induced coma and strapped him to a stretcher for the helicopter ride to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver.
His parents weren't sure he'd leave alive.
"People were gathered around and praying right there at the base of the slopes," said Pam MacCutcheon, Steve's mother. "It was so chaotic. We were just in shock. The accident and everything afterward was evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit."
Doctors needed to quickly decide whether to drill holes in his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. If they didn't, MacCutcheon would either die or live with significant brain damage.
His mother and others stood quietly by the life support machinery, praying, watching it keep her son alive.
Then, for no apparent reason, the pressure on his brain disappeared, and he regained consciousness.
"He was on life support when he just lifted up," Pam said. "We were so excited and amazed that we all ran out of the trauma room."
The Flight for Life pilot was still there, and he came in to see for himself.
"He told us he transported people regularly with those types of injuries, and that Steve was one lucky kid," Pam said.
"It's about the prayers and the love, and Jesus," Pam said. "I can't explain it any other way. Billy Graham says that no matter how long we prolong life, you're still going to die. We need to prepare for that by trusting Jesus as our savior."
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us to South Carolina
It's one thing to not die, but it's quite another to recover. Steve is 100 percent, but it took five years.
Because they lived in Edwards and he was a teenage professional snowboarder, Steve was constantly agitated to get back on his board.
"It was all I ever knew. That was my entire life's goal; I wanted to snowboard professionally for as long as I could," Steve said.
The family's move to South Carolina removed snow from the equation, but not Steve's frustration. Competitive snowboarding was over, he hadn't finished high school, and all his friends were on their way to college.
One night he'd been throwing stuff around their South Carolina home, venting some of that frustration.
His brother Michael is a songwriter and Steve had heard him play the piano.
Late one night when the house was quiet and Steve felt that frustration creeping back in, he got up, sat down in front of that piano and started playing. He had never played before – ever.
"I had no idea what I was playing. I just started to play this riff, then the chord structure underneath. I was making music," he said. "I was learning the importance of music as a form of communication."
It's a God thing, Steve said.
"It was God's hand enabling me to do this," Steve said.
The family moved back to the Vail Valley and attended Calvary Chapel Vail Valley, where Steve is a regular with the church's praise band.
"People are going through all kinds of things, and sometimes they think that everything is over. It's not," Steve said. "You overcome the devil with your testimony, and I want to be faithful in that."