An Olympic Medal, a Cancer Diagnosis, and X Games Gold in 18 Months
by Ashley Hubbard
In February 2018, Canadian snowboarder Max Parrot won the silver medal in slopestyle at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. As a 13-time X Games medalist, Max knew the feeling of standing on the podium well. While he competed – but didn’t medal – at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he was naturally feeling on cloud nine following his Olympic podium debut.
“Winning medals at the X Games is always an amazing feeling because this contest is really about the roots of our sport,” Max shares during a recent interview with Coping® magazine. “The Olympics is, for sure, very satisfying to win a medal, but it’s in a different way. The Olympics are only one time every four years, so only a few riders can touch a medal, and in the eyes of the world, the Olympics are more prestigious. But winning a medal at the X Games, for us snowboarders, it’s like the Olympics every time!”
It’s in his blood
Snowboarding isn’t just his passion or a career for Max; it’s in his blood. He started skiing at just three years old before making the switch to the board at age nine. Max’s father, Alan Parrot, is a former water skiing and alpine skiing champion. And, while it’s clear that Max is a natural, it was never in his parents’ plans for Max to follow in his father’s footsteps.
It was a big shock, that’s for sure. I don’t think anyone in the world can take this kind of news easily.
“My parents never pushed me in any sport. They made me learn a bunch so that I got to be versatile, but their goal was not for me to become a champion in any sport,” Max explains. “And I think it’s great that way. I deeply think it has to come from the child.”
From the Olympic podium to a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis
Following his 2018 Olympic and X Games wins, Max was enjoying the off-season and building his first home. Things were moving along in all the right directions for the 25-year-old.
Then, in December 2018, just 10 months after his silver medal win and only a few days before Christmas, Max received news that upended his life. He had Hodgkin lymphoma.
“It was a big shock, that’s for sure,” Max reveals. “I don’t think anyone in the world can take this kind of news easily.”
Getting through treatments
Max underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy, receiving infusions every two weeks for six months. He dealt with a number of side effects – fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dizziness.
Max says that staying positive helped him get through the challenges he faced while undergoing treatment. “Trying not to stop my life and not stay in bed helped me too,” he adds. “Even though I was not feeling well, I was forcing myself to go outside, to do little projects so my mind focused on other things.”
But Max knows, as many cancer survivors do, that it can’t be done alone. In fact, he says, “My best advice is to surround yourself with a team to battle this out. And, also, to stay positive, even though it’s hard, and just go day by day.
“I was really grateful to have a team surrounding me,” he adds. “My sports psychologist helped me through my down moments and helped me to find ways to be strong mentally. All along the way, the support of my family and friends, the doctors, nurses, my nutritionist, and my gym coach all helped me get through this.”
After all the hard work at the gym to regain my muscles and cardio that I’d lost during treatments, I was able to win gold!
Sharing his journey
Max was open about his diagnosis from the very beginning, documenting much of his cancer journey on social media – the good and the bad.
“I could have not shared downs,” Max reveals, “but my goal on social media is to showcase who I am 100-percent. And I am very glad I did because I received hundreds of messages from fans saying I inspired them, and from people diagnosed with different cancers at the same time as me. The fact that some of them told me I was helping them get through it was amazing for me, just to know that sharing this journey through cancer actually helped others.”
Back on the board
In June 2019, six months after he was diagnosed, Max underwent his final chemotherapy treatment, and a body scan revealed that he was cancer-free. Two months later, he returned to the Winter X Games in Norway and nabbed his sixth gold medal.
“It was a very special moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Max says about his return to the board. “It felt amazing to ride along with the other riders, who I hadn’t seen for months. And on top of that, after all the hard work at the gym to regain my muscles and cardio that I’d lost during treatments, I was able to win gold! But to win it was really just the candy at the end. Snowboarding and having fun was my only concern.”
Since his return to snowboarding after beating cancer, Max has gone on to claim gold in Men’s Snowboard Big Air at the X Games in Oslo and the X Games in Aspen, as well as the Beijing World Cup. Then, in his first event since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Max came back looking like he’d never missed a beat and snagged the Kreischberg World Cup in January 2021.
As a cancer survivor, Max now focuses on the immediate and not putting so much on his plate. “I take more time for myself than before. I used to say yes to everyone and every opportunity, but now I think more wisely of my time,” Max shares. “I am focusing year by year right now. I’m looking forward to continuing to do well at competitions, but I also want to start filming in the backcountry really soon for some projects.”
And, while he’s certainly living in the moment, it’s clear that Max is still full of aspirations, as he adds, “My long-term goal is for sure to go to the Olympics once again!”
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2021.
Cover and slider photo by Jaysson Gallant.