Vincent Gagnier recounts breaking his back, talks road to recovery

May 6th, 2014 by

“So, Tuesday morning is when it all happened,” wrote Vincent Gagnier on Facebook.

It was April 29. Rockstar Energy was hosting a private spring shoot at Grand Targhee, and on his first run of the day, whilst following Willie Borm and Matt Walker through a rhythm section, Gagnier encountered a down-flat-down rail. He recalls what happened next.

“[That rail] was a whole lot steeper than it looked from the chairlift. I slid the first down part and as I hit the flat, I caught an edge, and did half of a flip to my back, on ice. At first it felt like I had knocked the wind out of myself harder than ever. But my back was hurt. It took me a couple of minutes to breathe again. With the help of ski patrol, I tried to walk back to our hotel which was pretty close by. As I was walking, I felt my legs getting weaker and weaker, to the point where I was going to fall—but the ski patrol caught me just in time. She told me to sit down and wait for help. While waiting for the ambulance, I lost the feeling of my legs for five to 10 minutes. I was freaking out. I could not believe what just happened. Then they moved me to the ambulance waiting area. They took off my ski boots, and slowly I started moving my toes and getting feeling in my feet again. Thank God.”

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Vincent Gagnier — WSSF 2014 big air

The prognosis at the local hospital was a shattered T5 vertebra, requiring surgery. Gagnier was airlifted to Idaho Falls, where a Dr. Cash (fitting, for a Cash to be working on Vinnie Cash, himself) scheduled the operation for the following day, Wednesday.

The surgery went well, and in the days to follow, Gagnier shared brief messages of thanks, as well as updates in regards to his recovery. Some of his updates read:

“Big thanks for all of the + vibes, you guys saved me.”

“So far, every time I’ve walked with the physical therapist, I’ve gone further! Can’t wait for this afternoon to get another session going!”

“Just walked around 200 feet!!!!!!!! Lovin it!!!”

“Best morning so far!! I walked 1,320 feet with a wheel-walker with no assistance!!!! But the best part was how fast I was going!!! #UsainBolt”

This morning, we caught up with Gagnier, who elaborated on the fears and the feelings that went through his mind following the incident, and moreover, throughout the past week.

“I thought I was invincible, but that changed fast,” he told us.

“When I lost the feeling in my legs, not too many thoughts went through my head, other than that I was freaked out. I was asking myself, ‘How the fuck did this happen?’ After all of the crazy, scary tricks that I’ve done, how did a crash on a rail hurt me that bad? I had a back protector on. I thought they were meant to prevent those scary injuries. Why did my best season as a professional skier had to finish in such a way that could affect to rest of life?”

Pinpointing a turnaround, Gagnier continued, “Then I thought of Bruce Lee, and of all the things he accomplished after breaking his back. His work ethic and positive attitude made him come back stronger than ever. I calmed myself down and started to think positively, telling myself that everything was going to work out—and it did.”

Gagnier broke down his progress for us in detail. On the day following surgery, it was a feat simply to stand. On day two, he walked outside of his room with the help of a wheel-walker. Day three: he walked 200 feet, and the next day, 500 feet. On the fifth day, Gagnier walked 1,320 feet, and on the sixth, 2,640 feet—that’s one half mile. It certainly puts things in perspective when seemingly short distances equate to such momentous milestones—but that’s the reality for Gagnier in the wake of this accident. And, sadly, it’s a scenario all too familiar for those of us who work/play in the mountains.

“The progression from day to day is what motivates me,” Gagnier said. “I can’t wait for every PT session because I know that I’ll push myself harder than before, and the results will be doubled or tripled.”

“I am going day by day with this recovery, which gives me a lot of time before the winter to get back on track. I’ll be ready to go by November, no questions asked. I can’t wait.”

And with that, we continue to wish Gagnier well in his continued recovery, and we hope you’ll do the same by sharing a message in the comments section below.

Keep up the good work, bud.

Related: Watch every matchup from the 2014 Vars Tournament

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About the author:
Henrik Lampert loves hot dogs, backflips, the Boston Bruins and Norway. Twenty-seven years old and a Massachusetts native, he's the Editor of Freeskier Magazine and Freeskier.com—a proud staffer since 2010.