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Wednesdays with JMo
John Morris Catching Big Air in Atchison, Kansas Spring 2005, a few months before the accident on the same board and on the same hill where he broke his neck

Wednesdays with JMo 

Part Three: The Flip

This is the third installment of “Wednesdays with JMo”, a series of reflections, anecdotes and interviews that tell the story of a young man learning to live with a major disability, and the friendship that has grown between him and TNT contributor Jimmy P. Morgan. New installments are published monthly in TNT’s Storyland section.

It’s not every day that you look a friend in the eye and say, “So tell me about the day you broke your neck.” But that’s how it is with JMo. Actually, I think that’s how he has gotten through it all; by just naming all of it without fear, speaking to it, never shying away from talking about all the messy business of quadriplegia, always up front about The Flip and what came after. That’s why he’s my friend. He’s the straightest talker I know. (Well, I wasn’t really looking him in the eye; because it was Wednesday and we were headed to Denver on I-25 South when I said it, but you get the idea.)

John’s Class Picture – Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, Kansas Fall 2005

I woke up in my dorm room at 7:30 a.m. in Leo Hall at Maur Hill – Mount Academy in Atchison, Kansas. I remember posters of cool cars – Ford Mustangs mainly – plastered all over my walls. It was the last time I got out of bed on my own. 

More than two feet of snow had already fallen and the administration of the Catholic college preparatory school had called a snow day. My buddies—Chase, Andy, and Logan—and I had already started building a snow jump the night before on a hill by the side of the football field. I raced down to the cafeteria and, even though the food at Maur Hill is the best, there was no time to waste waiting for a hot breakfast. There was a ramp to build. I had cereal, instead. I wish somebody would’ve told me, “Hey man, grab the steak and eggs. This will be your last ride, go out with a big one!” It was the last time I fed myself… Froot Loops, for God’s sake.

The four of us headed outside while other dorm mates stayed inside playing video games. The snow was powdery and white. The sky was crystal clear blue. There was no breeze. Jeans, T-shirt, and a hoodie were all I needed.

After building up the ramp with fresh snow, I took a few test flights. Falling in the powder was like lying down on a mattress. We had no inkling that this might be dangerous. You know, that 18 year-old feeling of invincibility? Well, I had that in spades. I was on top of the world. I was getting my act together at this new school after not doing so great back in Fort Collins. I had my whole future ahead of me, although, at the moment, all I was thinking about was showing these Kansas boys how to snowboard!

The snow was perfect and reminded me of Colorado. The scene made me a little homesick and I was looking forward to Christmas break. 

Going off that jump and flying through the air was an absolute adrenaline rush; a feeling of weightlessness that must be what it’s like to be in outer space. I did my flip at about 10 or 15 feet in the air but something was awkward. I put my hands out in front of me to take most of the impact, but then my head and shoulders collided with the ground. There was the jarring sound and intense feeling of POP! My legs came over my back like a scorpion furling its tail. 

I remember lying in the snow, not understanding why I couldn’t move my limbs. Gasping for air, I told Andy, “Something’s wrong. I think I just broke my arms and legs. Grab the cell phone from my pocket and call 911.”

I think it dawned on me how serious this was when I heard the helicopter’s Thwop! Thwop! Thwop! and then saw it land while stirring up the powdery white snow.

John Morris Catching Big Air in Atchison, Kansas Spring 2005, a few months before the accident on the same board and on the same hill where he broke his neck

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