Freestyle skier Yater-Wallace overcomes trials to reach second Olympics

(Reuters) - Freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace’s journey to the Pyeongchang Winter 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 top of his sport.

At the age of 22, the American 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.

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At 15-years-old, Yater-Wallace became the Winter X Games’ youngest ever medalist, with silver in the Superpipe in 2011. Yet the teenager had already faced a difficult journey to that point.

His father John was sent to Federal Prison for white collar crimes in 2007, when Yater-Wallace was just 12-years-old. 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, following the X Games medal, Torin’s career blossomed and he was able to provide for his family through sponsorship deals and scholarships.

This should have been the fairytale end to the story, with a successful professional skiing career to follow, but Torin Yater-Wallace’s tale was only just beginning.

Torin Yater-Wallace through the years
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Torin Yater-Wallace through the years
Olympic freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace poses for a portrait during the 2013 U.S. Olympic Team Media Summit in Park City, Utah October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SKIING HEADSHOT OLYMPICS PORTRAIT)
SHOT 12/18/10 10:42:58 AM - Torin Yater-Wallace of Basalt, Co. gets inverted while competing in the Superpipe Finals during the Nike 6.0 Open stop of the Winter Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Breckenridge, Co. Yater-Wallace is only 15 years old and finished in fifth with a score of 83.25. It was his first time competing professionally. The event features ski and snowboard slopestyle and superpipe. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images)
WINTER X GAMES 15: Sking Superpipe Men's Finals Aspen/Snowmass Thursday, January 27, 2011 . Torin Yater-Wallace, 15, after grabbing second place in the finals of the skiing super pipe is greeted by his mother Stace Wallace (R) and his sister Saren Yater-Wallace at the bottom of the pipe. His final run put him into the medals and made him the youngest person to ever medal at Winter X Games. Photo by AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post (Photo By AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
France's Kevin Rolland (C) USA's Justin Dorey (R) and Torin Yater-Wallace (L) pose on the podium of the Men's Skiing Superpipe final after finishing respectively first second and third of the event during the European stage of the Winter X-Games, on March 16, 2011, in the sky resort of Tignes. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/Getty Images)
TIGNES, FRANCE - MARCH 16: Torin Yater Wallace of the USA finishes in 3rd place during the finals of skiing slopestyle at the Winter X Games Europe on March 16, 2011 in Tignes, France. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)
COPPER MOUNTAIN, CO - DECEMBER 7: Torin Yater-Wallace of the USAgoes inverted during the FIS Freeskiing World Cup Men's Qualifier on the Main Vein Half Pipe on December 7, 2011 in Copper Mountain, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
COPPER MOUNTAIN, CO - DECEMBER 09: Torin Yater-Wallace takes the podium in second place at the FIS Freestyle World Cup at the VISA US Freeskiing Grand Prix on December 9, 2011 in Copper Mountain, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
TIGNES, FRANCE - MARCH 16: First place winner Torin Yater-Wallace from the USA poses after he wins the Men Ski Superpipe final of the Winter X-Games Europe on March 16, 2012 in Tignes, France. (Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace visits the SiriusXM Studio on October 16, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 31: Torin Yater-Wallace looks on as he skis in the qualification heat for the FIS Freestyle Ski Halfpipe World Cup at the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix at Park City Mountain on January 31, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
US Torin Yater-Wallace competes during FreeStyle Halfpipe final race at the Snowboarding and Free Style World Cup Test Event at the Snowboard and Free Style Centre in Rosa Khutor near the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 16, 2013. US Torin Yater-Wallace won the race ahead of US Gus Kenworthy and Canadian Mike Riddle. AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)
US Torin Yater-Wallace celebrates on the podium his first place at the Freestyle Ski World Cup Men's Halfpipe Test Event at the Snowboard and Freestyle Center in Rosa Khutor near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, on February 16, 2013. AFP PHOTO / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA (Photo credit should read NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 25: Freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace poses for a portrait during the USOC Portrait Shoot on April 25, 2013 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
US halfpipe skier Torin Yater-Wallace speaks during a press conference in Tolstoy Hall at the Main Media Center in Sochi on February 7, 2014 ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18: Torin Yater-Wallace of the United States waits for his score in the Freestyle Skiing Men's Ski Halfpipe Qualification on day eleven of the 2014 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 25: Freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace poses for a portrait during the Team USA PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics portraits on April 25, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
MAMMOTH, CA - JANUARY 19: Torin Yater-Wallace looks on after finishing in third place in the final round of the FIS Freeski World Cup 2018 Men's Ski Halfpipe during the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix on January 19, 2018 in Mammoth, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)


Before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Yater-Wallace was the best skier in the U.S. team and widely tipped for an Olympic medal in the halfpipe.

Yet shortly before the Games Yater-Wallace suffered a collapsed left lung and broken ribs during a training fall. As he battled to recover in time for Sochi, worse news was yet to come.

His mother was diagnosed with colon cancer just weeks before the Games, but she remained adamant her son should take part in the Olympics.

“She played a massive role in getting me to where I am yet she has also had to deal with so much on her own and I can’t thank her enough for everything. She is one of the biggest parts of my entire life,” Yater-Wallace told Reuters in a telephone interview from his home town of Aspen, Colorado.

Still battling injury and distracted by his mother’s illness, Yater-Wallace 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,” said Yater-Wallace.

His mother eventually made a full recovery and the future looked bright for Yater-Wallace who was back healthy and on skis.

Yet his journey was soon to take its biggest and scariest turn as he suffered a severe liver infection in 2015 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.

In a movie documenting Yater-Wallace’s remarkable journey entitled "Back to Life", she says she thought her son was dying.

Yater-Wallace eventually recovered after months in hospital.

"There was no thought of skiing initially. It was much more about trying to stay alive and getting healthy,” he said.

"Once things were feeling better and I was learning to walk again, then the desire to ski popped into my mind."

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Figure skater Adam Rippon poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Park City, Utah, U.S. September 25, 2017. Rippon listens to electronic dance music while he trains. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Ice dancers Alex Shibutani and Maia Shibutani pose for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Park City, Utah, U.S. September 25, 2017. The pair listens to Coldplay and Perez Prado while they train. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 25: Snowboarder Shaun White poses for a portrait during the Team USA PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics portraits on April 25, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND,IN - SEPTEMBER 13: Sam McGuffie #2 of the Michigan Wolverines carries the ball during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 13, 2008 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 30: Maame Biney of United States reacts during the ladies 500m quarterfinals heat two during the Audi ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating at Bok Hall on September 30, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Christof Koepsel - ISU/ISU via Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 05: Erin Jackson competes in the Ladies 500 meter event during the Long Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials at the Pettit National Ice Center on January 5, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Skiing - Alpine Skiing World Cup - Women's Downhill - Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy - January 19, 2018. Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. celebrates her second place. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini


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 with a podium finish at Mammoth last weekend. The Winter Games run from Feb.9 - 25.

He is due to compete at the X Games, his favorite event, this weekend.

After all he has been through, it represents a staggering achievement.

When asked whether he sees himself as unlucky, Yater-Wallace was typically thoughtful and reflective.

“I think as a kid it was a lot more about the unlucky thoughts,” said Yater-Wallace.

“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’. When you have these things happening to you it is hard not to give up and you wonder why you are the person who was dealt these cards.

“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. They have made me a better person.

“I think of it now as a saving grace, to have overcome all these things."

Throughout it all, skiing has been the one constant, his release from the hardships he has endured.

“It was my place to get away from the world when I was down with family or financial stuff.  I could just be skiing out on the mountain in my own mindset,” he said.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Toby Davis)

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