It was a long road back for snocross competitor Levi LaVallee, but it was definitely worth it. The Longville, Minn., native won two gold medals at the recently completed Winter X Games in Aspen, the first time he had competed in the event since 2010 because of serious injuries. Lavallee chatted Wednesday with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand about those gold medals and the dangerous nature of performing high-flying flips and tricks on a snowmobile, which was driven home by the death of fellow competitor Caleb Moore.
Q Two gold medals -- how does that feel after the comeback?
A It felt amazing. I really didn't have much expectations going into X Games in that I had been out for the last few years. I practiced trying to get things back ... and everything went perfect. I couldn't have asked for anything better. It took a lot of hard work. I hadn't hit freestyle ramps for a couple years. I have some friends back home (at his training compound near Longville) who helped me out. They were awesome, just making sure everything was good and that I was comfortable.
Q Was it tough for you to go back to riding after your 2010 crash-related injury, which included broken ribs, punctured lungs and pelvic fractures?
A I think your natural instinct is to be nervous coming off injury. You have to believe in yourself and your talents, that you can do it. Fortunately I have a great group of people around me, and anytime I was feeling bummed they said, "You've got this, you can do this."
Q How hard was it to watch Caleb Moore's accident and absorb the news of his death?
A It was a very hard hit for snowmobiling and all the competitors in general. His crash was a pretty big crash, but at the same time it wasn't something we hadn't seen before. Unfortunately, it was a worst-case scenario. The trick he was doing was one he had done a hundred times. He just shorted the landing. We saw him get up and walk off with the medics. Once you see that as a competitor, you think, "He's OK. He might have some injuries but nothing major." Then to find out things weren't going very well, it shocks you. ... We have to learn from it. What can we do to make it safer and protect the riders better?
Q Does his death add a level of apprehension to what you do?
A When Caleb passed away, you obviously think about what you're doing in snowmobiling, but it made me appreciate life in general. ... It makes you look at life and say, "appreciate every minute you have because you never know."
Q What's next for you?
A Unfortunately I partially tore my lat muscle at Winter X games. ... I'm hoping to be back to finish out the season in the snocross series, and from there we have some cool things going on with Polaris and Red Bull -- contests where winners get to go ride with me up in the mountains. It will be fun to have some relaxed rides.