In an exclusive chat with Olympic Channel, the Canadian big air snowboarder shares how illness has changed his perspective on life, and predicts who his top rivals will be this season.
The PyeongChang 2018 slopestyle Olympic silver medallist started chemotherapy, and in July 2019 announced that he had beaten the illness.
Armed with a new outlook on life, it wasn't long before the six-time Winter X Games champion was back on the podium, taking the Oslo X Games big air event in August 2019.
In a candid Instagram live interview on Olympic Channel, the 26-year-old talks extensively about what he has learnt from his illness, why he feels it made him a better person, his relationship with social media, and his future goals in snowboarding, ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Check out his interview below.
Olympic Channel (OC): How are doing you after what's been a pretty surreal year for everyone?
Max Parrot (MP): April and May, I took those two months off. It was really nice for me to just clear my head, think about something else, work on my land and do some other stuff, play a little bit of guitar and just have time with myself, mostly because we couldn't see everyone because of the quarantine. But it was good to spend some time with myself a little. But after two months I needed to start again. So, I started going back to the gym and fortunately we have an airbag (for practicing snowboard/freeski landings) in Quebec. So, I was able all summer long to train on that airbag multiple times a week.
Right now I'm in Yukon, which is pretty much the only place in Canada with a mountain open that we can actually ride. I've been here for the past week and it's been so much fun. You know, I haven't touched snow for like eight months, so I was really looking forward to it. And I'm just really glad that I'm able to snowboard again on snow rather than the airbag and actually just get my tricks back on the snow because we have a season coming up.
OC: You were on quite a roll when the pandemic hit. How frustrating was it for you to be forced to stop again after coming back from cancer treatment?
MP: Yeah, it was a really big year when I had to fight against cancer and getting back on snow was actually my motivation to fight it. And I was just really happy to be back on board, and back on the competitive scene and I was actually doing really well. I think one of the reasons why is because I was like a lion in a cage for the whole time. I was at the hospital and I just wanted to snowboard so bad and be back out there. So, when I fought against it (cancer) and won, they opened the cage and I just went straight to training and rode so much and was just really happy to be back on snow. So, I think that's the reason why I had such a good year last season.
(At) X Games Norway in March, I got second in Big Air and I won the slopestyle. I was really happy because it was a good win for me. And it was my first slopestyle podium of the year and it was a gold medal. I was just really proud about that. And for me, I've counted three gold and one silver, so four medals total at X Games in a season is really insane for me.
I learnt to be positive years ago, and mainly because of snowboarding. You know, we all travel here and there and it's not always good weather. The jumps sometimes are puffy or flat or you don't like the course, or it's windy. There’s always something you can be negative about and I realised after some years of riding and with experience, I was able to always find solutions for negative thoughts and turn them into positive thoughts. And I was seeing the results of it and I was just seeing how much I was riding better. You want to have a smile on your face.
Last year, facing cancer and everything, it taught me to live really in the present moment. And that's what I put into my daily routine, especially since the quarantine. So, in April and March, when I was thinking more time for myself, I was also appreciating the time every day. And I wasn't thinking, in two months I'm going to start going back to the gym, no I was really going day by day and I still do that now. I think it's definitely good to think about the future because you want to see your goals, you want to see where you're going, but it's important to live every day and in the present moment, I think.
OC: What about you, how is your health now?
MP: My health is very good. There have been quite a lot of people asking me, "Are you more at risk (of coronavirus) since you got cancer and everything?" But the answer is no. As soon as I beat cancer and I trained, got all of my energy and my muscles back, my immune system goes back to one hundred percent since then. I feel actually really strong, especially after the summer for all the training and time we've had. I'm ready for the season coming up.
OC: Do you have any advice or any techniques that you use to bring yourself back to the present moment?
MP: You know since I fought through cancer, I feel like I don't care about anything nowadays. We give so much attention to meaningless things and give them so much thought. We put pressure on ourselves for so much stuff that in the end doesn't really make a difference in your life or how you’re living. Just by realising that, especially with my career, when I have so much going on and I’m getting asked to do a lot of stuff, over time I've learnt to say no because before, I was the guy who would say yes to everything. I just never really had time for myself. Now, I get more time for myself and more time for the things that are really important to me. So that's a way for me to be more organised and I would say it's been working really well that way.
OC: When you say you’ve been spending more time on yourself, what sort of things have you been doing?
MP: I’ve realised that when I do yoga and meditation after that, I often find so many solutions. By clearing your mind, you can see the problem more clearly, and you see what's important and what you can let go of. I also play guitar. I live on a mountain in Quebec so I do a lot of mountain biking with my dog especially. He loves to run just next to me. I actually opened a restaurant in Quebec this year. We hired a chef who's a good cook, you know, I love eating, I just don't like cooking.
OC: You get a lot of media attention and interest in not just your snowboarding, but in your private life as well. How do you feel about that?
MP: I've always been an open book, so I don't really have a private life. I'm not scared to tell anyone about my bad days or my good days on social media. I just want to be as authentic as possible. I feel like the public wants to see you when you're a little bit more vulnerable. I think for me, it's a way to show them my downs and how I can overcome them and overcome all the challenges that life brings. And again, it's a way for me to inspire them to try to keep on fighting when there's anything happening in your life. Through the Olympics and everything, I've got more and more attention over the years. I have grown my audience and it just makes me inspire more people, I hope.
OC: Is there anyone in the world that you would love to meet? Someone that you admire, whether in business or in sport?
MP: Well, on the business side, I would really love to meet Elon Musk one day just because I think it is crazy how this guy thinks about so much stuff and puts all those ideas into the real world. And I think he's a really good businessman. I would just really love to know more about how he does things daily. I actually bought his book recently and I'm going to read it soon.
In the sports world, I would love to talk to Tiger Woods because I would really like to understand how you can handle that much pressure without missing. I've actually already met Lewis Hamilton and I really admire him as well. He's such a warrior when he gets in his car and drives it. Maybe in the future I'll have some more talks with him, but I really admire the competitive side of him.
OC: Have you thought about your career longevity and how long do you want to be snowboarding?
MP: My huge dream when I was 14, 15 years old was just to become a professional snowboarder, travel the world, and do some contests. It was not even about winning. It was not about the Olympics at that time because our sport was not even in the Olympics. Then, three years later, I was 18. I grabbed a silver medal at the X Games. I was travelling the world. I was officially a professional snowboarder. Things just started to go so fast. The next year, I won double gold at the X games and I was invited to go to the Olympics in Sochi (2014). I finished fifth over there. I've already surpassed my dream by so much and I was only 19 and today I'm 26. That definitely makes me proud of myself because I keep on going.
There's a lot of guys out there that, once they achieve their dream they just stop there. They don’t want more. And that's the thing that I found the hardest. Not only to win your first contest, but it's to keep on winning for so many years in a row. It's really hard because once you get up there, once you set the bar, everybody else knows what it takes to be there so every year everybody reaches you. Every year you have to push the limits. You have to find new tricks that no one else does. And it's really tough.
I've been a warrior within myself since I was young. It's not that I want more medals. It's just because I love to push the limits. I love to be on my snowboard and to ride new ways. I love to showcase my best run during a contest that I've been working on and also the lifestyle of it, of course, travelling the world. It's really nice snowboarding all year long. It's definitely a great job to have. But now I'm 26 and we all know that snowboarding at my level is impossible to keep on doing when you’re 50. There will be an end to it one day, when I do not know yet.
OC: What are your next career goals?
MP: There's still a lot of stuff to be done out there, I just want to keep pushing. I want to use more and more of my creativity in tricks, into runs. Of course, my goal is to go to the Olympics next year in China. So I'll be mainly focusing on that and the qualification events. After the Olympics I would like to film more, so maybe do less contests because right now I do about 10, 12 contests per season. But I plan on doing maybe four to five contests per year and spending more time in the backcountry filming.
I want to inspire anyone to go out there and try snowboarding and feel the same feeling and feel the same love I have for my sport. I want to inspire more people to go out there, get out of the city.
OC: How important is this season, with Beijing 2022 coming up around the corner?
MP: This season is definitely an important one because of the qualification for the Olympics. Everyone worldwide needs to get their spots. I'm not really worried that Canada will get those four maximum spots to go to the Olympics. The problem in our country is that we have more than four really good riders. We're like six or seven really good guys that all deserve our spot at the Olympics, but there's a limit of four, so this year will mainly be for us, a qualification against (other) Canadians to know who will go to the Olympics.
OC: From your perspective, who are the athletes to watch this season? Men and women.
MP: I would say there's Takeru Otsuka from Japan. He hurt his knee and had to cancel last season because of it. But I saw him riding in Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and he was doing really well. There's also Marcus Kleveland from Norway. He's one of the upcoming new guys for a couple of years and he's doing really well. He's pushing the limits. We all love to see that he's being really creative. New grabs, new ways of spinning, he's won the X Games as well. There's also my team-mate Mark McMorris who has been really good, as well as winning a lot of contests in the past years.
With the girls, I would say there's Anna Gasser from Austria. I've known her for many years now, but every year she comes up with new stuff and she's actually one of the women that pushes the limits so much. She is still the only one being able to do a triple cork on a snowboard for women. I really like that because I'm the type of guy that loves to push the limits and she does it as well. And we often have great conversations together. There's also my teammate from Canada Laurie Blouin who's been riding really well lately, especially in the past years. So, everyone will have to watch out for her as well.
OC: What's the most valuable lesson that you've learnt about yourself over the last two years?
MP: The biggest lesson that I've learnt is really to live to the present moment. It’s also about realising that we're not here forever. We always get into those patterns of working life and hobbies and sometimes we just act like we're immortal, and we're never going to die, you know? But that's not the case. I was really on the line with cancer and everything. I now make sure I enjoy all the little moments much more. It can be as simple as having a coffee in the morning or just distracting myself snowboarding. I appreciate them a hundred times more than before. And it's something I just really enjoy so much. It makes you enjoy life to another level. It's crazy. And I never want to lose that, that's for sure.
If I had the chance to go back two years and be able not to have cancer and just live a normal life, I wouldn't want that. It's quite weird to say, but I’ve learned so much, and today I'm grateful for what happened because I'm a totally different person. I really love the person I am becoming and that I will become in the future as well.
OC: You've mentioned the word ‘grateful’ several times through this conversation. What is one thing that you're most grateful for?
MP: I'm grateful for what life has brought me, but also for what I brought to myself, because life doesn't bring you everything and you have to work hard sometimes. I've been working really hard from a young age and I'm just really so glad about all the things that I've sacrificed over the past years to get where I am today. I'm really grateful for everything that has happened to me in my life, for everything that I've learned that's got me to be who I am today. I wouldn't really change anything in the past. I'm actually proud of my whole, not just my career but from every year since I was born, for everything I've learned every year until today, I'm just becoming better and better. This is like I would say, my life goal is to just become better and better every year. And I'm really proud of who I am today and looking forward to learning more and more over the years to come.