Freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace’s journey to the Pyeongchang Olympics is among the most remarkable, after the American endured a sequence of trials testing his mental perseverance, physical strength and desire to compete.
At the age of 22, he has already overcome his father’s prison term, his mother’s cancer, a collapsed lung that ruined his chances in Sochi and a severe liver infection that threatened his life.
At 15 years old, he became the Winter X Games’ youngest-ever medalist, with silver in the Superpipe in 2011, but the teenager had already faced a difficult journey to that point.
His father was sent to Federal Prison for white-collar crimes in 2007, when Yater-Wallace was just 12. After that, his mother had to fight to provide for him and his sister, working several jobs and relying on food stamps.
Throughout it all, his fledgling skiing career was paramount and his mother, Stace, was determined her son got the chance to follow his dream.
Her sacrifices paid off when her son’s career blossomed after the medal and he was able to provide for his family through sponsorship deals and scholarships.
This should have been the fairy-tale end to the story, with a successful professional skiing career to follow, but his tale was only just beginning.
Before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Yater-Wallace was the best skier in the US team and widely tipped for a medal in the halfpipe, but shortly before the Games a fall during training caused his left lung to collapse and broke several ribs.
As he battled to recover in time, worse news was yet to come.
His mother was diagnosed with colon cancer just weeks before the Games, but she was adamant her son should take part in the Olympics.
Still battling injury and distracted by his mother’s illness, he struggled to perform in Sochi, finishing 26th in the halfpipe.
“It was one of the worst performances of my career, coming at such a big moment,” Yater-Wallace said.
His mother eventually made a full recovery and the future looked bright for Yater-Wallace, who was back healthy and on skis.
However, his journey was to take its biggest and scariest turn as he in 2015 developed a severe liver infection that forced his organs to shut down and his lungs to fill with fluid.
As her son lay in a medically induced state of paralysis with tubes running in and out of his body, his mother feared the worst.
Yater-Wallace eventually recovered after months in the hospital, and after months of strenuous work in the gym and physiotherapy, Yater-Wallace returned to win gold at the 2016 X Games in Oslo.
His focus since then has been on Olympic qualification, which he achieved last weekend with a podium finish at Mammoth.
After all he has been through, it is a staggering achievement.
When asked whether he sees himself as unlucky, he was typically thoughtful and reflective.
“I think as a kid it was a lot more about the unlucky thoughts,” he said. “All of these things would just keep coming up. There was the thought of ‘why us, why again, why are these things happening that are making it so much harder to get by,’ but I wouldn’t take them back, because they have shaped me into the person I am today, outside of skiing and as a human being”
“I think of it now as a saving grace, to have overcome all these things,” he added.
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