Hump Day Salutes El Schwarez
The fateful day. Nothing but smiles.
Anytime someone is seriously injured snowboarding, it’s easy to start throwing blame around. And in the case of Mike “El Schwarez” Schwarz’s injury, there’s no shortage of culprits. Last year, at the World Quarterpipe Championships at Timber Ridge, VT, any paranoid person would say it was bound to happen. Even when I learned someone had been airlifted to Dartmouth following the event, I wasn’t surprised. In the hubbub of the gauntlet and the fire pit, I didn’t even notice when Mike Schwarz fell, hitting his head twice on the way down, and then stumbled off.
It wasn’t until the next day I heard official word, from my sister, a close friend of Mike’s, he was in serious condition. This is never news you want to hear, but at a drunken snowboard fest with sketchy obstacles, what did you really expect?
But Mike’s injury was truly a freak accident. After sticking a back layout over the Gauntlet, Mike slipped on a FS 50-50 stall on the hitching post at the top of the quarterpipe. When he slipped, the back of his legs hung up on the log, causing him to somersault backwards. The back of his head struck the deck of the QP and then he continued to roll and fell back into the tranny. Mike struck his head once more before coming to a stop. Even with his helmet on, he suffered a massive subdural hematoma on his brain. Basically, he severely bruised his brain and the internal bleeding from the injury caused pressure in his brain that put him into a coma.
Honestly, this could have happened to anyone.
Mike Schwarz is not just anyone though. He is a Southern-Vermont-turned-UVM kid who was quickly making a name for himself in the east coast snowboard scene. He was a good friend to my sister and any one else with the pleasure of knowing him. And even I, who left that scene almost ten years ago, realized I used to snowboard with his sister, Nevin Schwarz. In snowboarding, we’re all connected like that, and Mike’s injury hit me as hard as if he’d been my younger brother instead.
El Schwarez in action. Photo Russ Hulbert.
Like most snowboarders, Mike’s story starts simply. He came into the world in an ice storm in December 1986. He was a pretty quiet kid; he looked up to his older sister, and was terrified of bugs. At around eight or nine years old, he decided to follow in his sister’s footsteps and began snowboarding. He learned to snowboard at Stratton Mountain, later calling Okemo his home. “Mike’s personality can be easily seen through his style of shred,” Nevin said. “He tweaks grabs for days. He spins in slow motion, and laughs from summit to base. Mike never claims it, and lets his shred scream for him. “
After his injury, Mike’s initial prognosis was grim; they didn’t think he’d make through the first night. Then three days passed, but still no one knew what to expect. He spent the first three weeks in the ICU on life support at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical center. It was two weeks before he began initiating his own breaths. Once breathing on his own, he was moved to a step down unit and little by little began emerging from his coma. He wasn’t fully awake until June, almost three months after his fall. The doctors still didn’t know what to expect, saying he could be severely disabled, but of course, that’s wasn’t certain either.
“The only prognosis that has come to make sense is that this recovery will take time and patience,” Nevin said. “We do not know how far or how fast Mike will recover. But we believe that he will continue to thrive. Mike continues to defy the odds, exceed expectations, and blow minds. So we have to have his back and follow his lead. The end goal is that Mike is back living on his own, finishing school, and of course snowboarding. This may take some time, but he will get there.”
And when he does, Mike will have his own custom snowboard waiting for him. Thomas Haraden actually met Mike just a few days before the World Quarters through their mutual friend John Poulin. Although they’d only bumped into each other a few times, Mike made an instant impact on Tom. So when Greg at Team Eight snowboards, a company in Maine that manufactures fully custom snowboards, wanted to do a board for a “good cause,” Thomas immediately thought of El Schwarez.
“I’d been following his progress since the accident” he said. “I began by contacting some of Mike’s friends and family to help in the design process, collecting photos, ideas, anything. John and I met up at a friend’s place to layout the design. We began by drinking Mike’s favorite beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and ended at an old wooden table strewn with beers and photographs.”
The snowboard is now complete and will be under his Christmas tree this year.
When Mike was in a coma, the outlook grim, it was hard to be positive about the situation. But now, nine months later, things are looking up.
“Mike will get there, especially with all of the love and support that has surrounded him and our family,” Nevin said. “Our family has been loved, cared for and supported since day one. Family, friends, and community have rallied around us doing everything from making meals and taking the dog out for a run to donating money to help with Mike’s medical bills. It has been unbelievable what everyone has been willing to do, and continues to do for us. The human spirit truly is kind.”
Mike and Nevin.
If you’d like to help Mike and his family by donating money for his long term care or even just sending a card, you can send mail to:
PO Box 611
Chester, VT 0514