During the 10 days he spent near death, Torin Yater-Wallace had recurring dreams that he still can not explain. In one, he flew to 10 different states, tied to a stretcher with doctors fluttering around him and ropes hooked to his body, like an episode of "House", but in airplanes. In another dream, Yater-Wallace saw himself stored in the freezer of a train, to keep his body temperature controlled. His thoughts, he recalled later, were crazy.
Yater-Wallace, one of the best freestyle skiers in the world, woke up one morning at the end of 2015 feeling bad. He shrugged and went skiing. Days later, he arrived at the University of Utah hospital in an airlift and was induced to a medically induced coma, with the lungs strangled by fluid and the liver assaulted by an abscess. The disease turned out to be a rare viral infection, which was lost during several initial diagnoses. Doctors at one point told his mother and girlfriend to inform other loved ones that they should make arrangements for the trip, in case Yater-Wallace did not survive.
While studying the road that will likely lead to PyeongChang 2018, his second Winter Olympiad, Yater-Wallace sees his almost mortal hospital stay as he only overcame a more recent calamity. Months before his adolescent break in sports, Yater-Wallace slept on the sofas of his friends, as a result of the bankruptcy of his father's wine business. Before the Sochi Games in 2014, a doctor drilled a hole in his lung during what should have been a routine dry-needling therapy.
"Medical things seem to appear in my life and they almost kill me all the time," said Yater-Wallace. "I literally do not know why."
Yater-Wallace behaves like an amateur philosopher, a 22-year-old adept of extolling the companionship power of his girlfriend, Sarah Hendrickson, an Olympian ski jumping aspirant, who spent five nights sleeping next to him while he rested. . He recounts the harrowing details of his near-death experience in serene tones, the freshness that comes from a life of skipping on skis at 15 feet in the air and spinning 1,400 degrees. He processes the consequences without fear.
Since his teens, Yater-Wallace has been, among peers, perhaps the most revered freestyle skier in the world. "An icon of sport, a deity in our sport," said his coach, Elena Chase. He skis with uncommon aggression and grace. When he falls to the halfpipe, even in practice races, the rivals stop to watch.
"He's definitely the best competitor in my opinion," said freestyle skier Aaron Blunck, a close friend. "The boy could not do a training session all day, he could be suffering, he could be dealing with a lot of things, but when it comes to that, he puts his eyes on the pipe and rushes in. He's always my favorite guy for See ski halfpipes, ski jumps, dust, anything, it's my favorite skier, it's just the competitor at heart, it will never show you from the hill, but on the hill, you see it in your eyes. "
Even for those closest to him who lived through the ordeal, Yater-Wallace's most vital support week retains an air of surrealism. He had already endured the difficulties that would have broken other skiers. Now, the skier who had podiums since he was a child had been knocked down again, this time by microscopic bacteria. How to process such human frailty and athletic genius intermingling in a single person?
"Hey, that's my whole life," Yater-Wallace said. "Something that people have not seen before."
At age 14, Yater-Wallace entered the USASA Nationals 2010, the country's most important competition for amateur skiers and snowboarders. He was the youngest skier in slopestyle and halfpipe, but he beat them both, scoring an absurd 9.73 in the halfpipe. Yater-Wallace used the $ 2,000 (£ 1,500) prize to help his mother, Stace, pay the rent.
During the first decade of his life, Yater-Wallace grew up in a wealthy home in Aspen, Colorado. His father, Ron Wallace, had a successful wine futures business, Rare Fine Wines LLC, which sold expensive wine that had not yet been bottled. Wallace became an expert in the industry. He bought a BMW and joined an opulent country club.
In the early and mid-2000s, it developed, according to contemporary news reports. The customers stopped receiving the wine they had paid and claimed that he had been running a Ponzi scheme, using payments for wine only to get rich. The first lawsuits were filed in 2003. The FBI conducted a major crime investigation. In 2005, Wallace pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, electronic fraud and conducting an illegal monetary transaction. He faced 70 years in prison.
Although he initially avoided jail, prosecutors eventually convicted Wallace of paying $ 11 million, along with five years of probation and two years of detention at home. Wallace ended up bankrupt. In 2010, a judge sentenced him to nine months in federal prison and 27 months of supervised release for multiple violations of his probation. The case closed in 2011 with Wallace still due to creditors, which included major league pitcher Jamie Moyer and ESPN anchor Chris Fowler, more than $ 20 million.
As Wallace's business progressed dramatically, Stace did everything in his power to protect Yater-Wallace. He focused on his skiing even when his finances became terrible. He moved from house to house, his things constantly packed and unpacked. When he started earning as an early teenager, the money from his prize would help him make ends meet. He saw it not as a burden, but as a launch.
"When I was on the hill, it was his church," said Chase, who has known Yater-Wallace since he was eight years old. "Even a fun day in dust, he always appeared and appreciated skiing, he has also had many adversities as an adult, he has had constant reminders all his life and his entire career of appreciating skiing. all right ".
The ascent of Yater-Wallace continued. He astonished the world of skiing by winning a silver medal at X Games 2011 at age 15, becoming the youngest medalist in the history of the event. He was on a clear path to compete for a gold medal at the Sochi Games.
However, nothing about the Yater-Wallace path tends to be clear. In early 2013, Yater-Wallace underwent a dry-puncture treatment, a routine measure to relieve back pain. The therapist, Yater-Wallace said, drove the needle too deep and pierced the lung. He did not realize that something was wrong until he had trouble breathing the next day training at Copper Mountain. He ran to the hospital and realized what had happened.
"Absolutely absurd," said Yater-Wallace. "If I had not been to the Olympics, there would have been a great demand."
In the first Olympic qualifying event, Yater-Wallace crashed, fractured two ribs and collapsed the lung again. The recovery prevented him from entering other qualifying events. "I just have to see everyone try to qualify, just knowing that there is a great chance that they will not go, with much exaggeration to win," said Yater-Wallace.
The coaches gave Yater-Wallace the fourth place on the team, a discretionary selection despite not having competed for almost a year, a nod to his reputation and past achievements. With diminished health, he finished 26th.
At least leaving Sochi, he had regained full health. He set his sights on his season and X Games and became a target to do his best in PyeongChang. He did not realize that his physical traumas had just begun.
One day in November 2015, Yater-Wallace woke up and thought he had the flu. He went skiing, as always. When he returned home, he shuddered and it hurt. He drove to Utah because he needed a pair of ski boots and he felt sad in his car all the time. In Park City, several doctors told her she had the flu. For four days, he went to the emergency room three times. He was sent home once with Tamiflu. Its temperature continued to rise.
The roommates of Yater-Wallace and Hendrickson were out of town, but Hendrickson called his agent, Michael Spencer, to make sure he checked. Spencer went to his house and made him soup. He felt something wrong. "Do not send me text messages," Spencer told him. "Giving me a call."
At one o'clock in the morning, Spencer's phone rang. "Dude, I have to go to the hospital," Yater-Wallace told him. "I can not even breathe."
Spencer hurried him to the Park City hospital. Yater-Wallace had a horrible pain in his side, and his temperature had dropped to 40 degrees Celsius. The doctors performed tests and took him by helicopter to the University of Utah hospital. Delirious, Yater-Wallace insisted that a helicopter would be too expensive, so they should drive.
"Horribly scared," said Yater-Wallace. "I've never been so sick in my life, I hope no one will experience it in their entire life."
When he landed in Salt Lake City, the doctors finally determined that he had something much more serious than the flu. I had Streptococcus anginosus, a septic virus. The bacterium rarely infects anyone, and when it does, the victim is almost always over 40 years old. Yater-Wallace was 19. Doctors had never seen anything like this before.
An abscess had formed in Yater-Wallace's liver, which caused his lungs to be flooded with fluid. It affected your gallbladder and caused your organs to expand. Four days after he woke up feeling sick, the doctors took him to the intensive care unit and placed him in medically induced paralysis.
"Seeing him in the hospital bed almost died for eight days was almost the worst thing you can imagine," Hendrickson said. "To have a nurse and tell her mom and me, to call her sister and her father because he can not do it is pretty brutal."
Yater-Wallace does not remember anything of those 10 days, except for his strange dreams. When he woke up, he felt terrified and then thirsty. He had been fed through a tube for 10 days. I had lost more than a stone and a half in 10 days.
"I did not even think about skiing when I woke up," Yater-Wallace said. "I was so confused, I was out of my world, as to what was happening."
The recovery was slow with complications. I had to learn to walk again. His body readjusted to solid food. Once the doctors released him, he sat on a couch next to Hendrickson, who sat on a bed, recovering from his own knee surgery.
"He is the most loving, loving and positive person that exists," Hendrickson said. "I feel like I am the negative in the relationship, it is always encouraging me, no matter what happens to me, what has been an unfortunate madness, illnesses, everything, just raise your head."
The doctors insisted that Yater-Wallace recover deliberately. Once he left the hospital, a thought occupied his mind: "I just want to go skiing." Skiing was always his escape, a way out of difficult times.
"Torin dodges through feeling," Spencer said. "Skiing with him is a throw, he does not do any trick because he says," Oh, I'm going to win. "He feels the trick.
The first Yater-Wallace session took place in Lake Sydney, licking the night alone. He skied with medical equipment connected to his body: drainage tubes in the liver and gall bladder, blood flowing from the liver to the tube. He kept penicillin in his pocket.
He began to feel stronger and rehabilitated harder. Yater-Wallace decided that he wanted to ski at the European X Games in early 2016, just two months after his ordeal. The doctors made an ultimatum: he could undergo surgery to remove his gallbladder, which would leave him out of service for a month, or he could take the line out of his gallbladder and compete in Oslo.
There was a problem: if he took out the tube, he remembered that there was a 60 percent chance that he would re-infect himself and end up in the intensive care unit, where he had been at the beginning.
He wanted to ski. Hendrickson understood. He understood the notion of weighing risk and preparing for consequences: as a ski jumper, he had dedicated his life's work to it. When Spencer had flown with Yater-Wallace to the hospital, he was disconcerted to remember that he had lost another client there after a horrible mountain accident. Yater-Wallace lived in a universe that accepted and required physical danger.
He pulled out the tube.
Bile flowed in his intestines as doctors wanted. He traveled to Europe, and two months after having been in medically induced paralysis, Yater-Wallace won the X Games gold medal in Oslo.
"It's hard to understand that he was about to expire, and then he wins the biggest event of the year," Chase said.
Any of the tribulations of Yater-Wallace would define the life of most people, much less those of 22 years. He has a documentary that comes out about his life in January, but he prefers not to look back. In a way, it would be too difficult. Would his life have been different if his father had not ended up in federal prison? What would have happened if I had sent a text message to Spencer that night instead of calling, and had never seen the message?
"Something would have been solved in time, I'm sure," Spencer said. "Well, that's what I like to think, anyway, I do not want to speculate about what would happen if."
This year, for the first time, Yater-Wallace has been challenged to land on podiums. He plans to increase the degree of difficulty for his careers in PyeongChang accordingly. He wants to do his best, but he will not insist on the results. He stopped asking why a long time ago. His life has made him appreciate skiing and everything he has, too.