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Thursday, December 30, 2010
Updated: January 2, 1:29 PM ET
Levi LaVallee: On the mend in Minnesota

By Alyssa Roenigk
ESPN Action Sports

LaVallee, just before beginning practice for Red Bull's "New Year, No Limits" show.

Levi LaVallee planned to spend New Year's Eve jumping his snowmobile across the San Diego Bay, entertaining thousands of spectators and setting a new world distance record as part of this year's "Red Bull: New Year. No Limits" event. But an accident on the final day of testing in Fontana, Calif., derailed those plans. Two weeks after the accident and six days after being released from the hospital and returning home to Minnesota, LaVallee talks for the first time about the crash, setting the world record and his new plans for ringing in the New Year.

ESPN.com: First things first: How are you feeling?
Levi LaVallee: I've been better, but I'm just happy to be alive and kickin'. Well, not kickin'.

The goal of this event, from the get, was to break the world record of 301 feet. You did that. How did that feel?
The day I hurt myself, I broke the record a few times, actually. When we started getting close to the 360 range, it caught me off guard. When I landed the 361-foot jump [the new world record, and LaVallee's final jump], I couldn't believe how smooth the landing was. It was like butter. After flying 361 feet, you'd think you would land like a grenade, but I didn't even bottom out the suspension. The ramp setup was amazing. And it is cool that I broke the record. I didn't do it on New Year's Eve, but the original goal was to achieve the record and it means a lot to me and my crew and everyone involved that we did that.

Looking back, does that make it all worth it?
Absolutely it does. It was an honor just to be asked to be a part of the event. I've been watching the event for three years, and it was an honor to work with the same people who did Robbie's jump and Travis' jump and Rhys' jumps. I was like a little kid the entire time. And we set the world record. I would do it again in an instant. But first I want to watch the video, figure out what went wrong and learn from it.

Do you remember the crash?
I don't. The last thing I remember is racing go-karts with everyone. I won. I remember that. After the 361-foot jump, we took a break to get food and wait for it to get dark. We wanted to jump under the lights so that, come New Year's Eve, nothing was out of the ordinary. The first jump under the lights, that's when things went wrong.

Have you pieced together what happened?
I still haven't watched the video, so to be honest, I can't tell you what happened. But from what I hear, I hit the ramp and was flying pretty far when the sled started to endo -- I was coming into the landing nose down. It got to a point where I was like, "I'd better bail," so I jumped off the sled. I landed off to the side and started to bounce. I can't imagine how many times I must have cartwheeled, going 100-plus mph, yard sailing and bouncing off my chest. It sounded like it was a violent crash. Anyone who saw it told me they weren't sure I was going to come out of it. And to see me up and moving around after a week was impressive. It says a lot about the gear I was wearing.

LaVallee, during testing at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Sure does. Were you wearing gear designed specifically for this jump? Or are you always that well protected?
I was wearing extra upper body protection, Bionic body armor from Alpinestars, which covers my elbows, shoulders and chest. Other than that, I was wearing my normal gear, a neck brace and knee braces. That's the only seatbelt we have. Sitting here looking back, thank god I put on that extra upper body protection. My upper body is hammered and I can't imagine how I'd be if I didn't have that on. I'd be lucky to be alive.

What is your first memory after the crash?
I woke up in the hospital two days later and everyone was looking at me. I was like, "What happened? What's going on? What day is it?" I had no idea I'd had a crash. I had four hoses in my chest because my lung had collapsed and one was punctured. I remember them taking out the third and fourth ones -- the third was like a nightmare coming out. I swear the doctor tied it to his pickup truck to pull it out. I had broken ribs and fractures in my pelvis. The doctors are most worried about those because they don't want me putting too much pressure on my legs and blowing my pelvis apart. So I'm walking with a walker. I have to high-five the old folks who get around using these things. It is not easy.

When did you find out you wouldn't be jumping on New Year's Eve, or competing at Winter X?
That first day. I asked everyone in the room, "How bad am I?" They told me everything I'd injured and I said, "Am I good to go for the jump?" No. You won't be able to jump. So I was like, "Well, I have to get home to get ready for X Games. I'll be better by then." I saw the looks on their faces. No. You can't do that either. It was hard. This injury takes me out of the season and missing X Games really bums me out. But I plan to go out to Aspen to support our team riders.

You were released from the hospital on Christmas Eve. Did you make it home to Minnesota in time to celebrate?
I did. We got back that night, so I was able to spend Christmas Day with my family. That was pretty awesome. I was glad to get home. Being in the hospital is never fun. But it makes you appreciate the people you have in your life. I was like, "Holy cow. How fortunate am I to have such cool people who care how I am and who are here with me?"

So when will we see you back on the sled?
The doctors tell me three to six months for my pelvis to heal. I think it will be closer to three.

Was this both the beginning and the end of your distance-jumping career?
No way. I would love to do another distance jump. We broke the record this time, but we ended on a bad note. I want to go out on a good note next time.

So, the million-dollar question: How will you be spending New Year's Eve?
My girlfriend Kristen and I will probably stay home and watch a movie. And hopefully make it to midnight. Talk about going from one extreme to another.