Canadian Alpine skier Brad Spence knows a bit about perseverance.
After suffering a pretty gruesome broken leg just before the Torino Olympics in 2006, he was told that he might never ski again. Through sheer determination he made it back to compete on home snow at the Vancouver Olympics four years later.
As Spence takes to the Rosa Khutor slope in Sochi for his second Games, he will bring with him a constant reminder of the power of courage and resolve.
According to a story in the Calgary Herald, the 29-year-old will wear a race helmet adorned with the artwork of Gillian O’Blenes, a 17-year-old cancer patient, when he competes in the men’s slalom on Feb. 22.
“Knowing how much she’s had to overcome … she’s been a huge inspiration to me and I’m just honored to have this opportunity,’’ Spence said.
A promising dancer, O’Blenes is currently undergoing chemotherapy at the Alberta Children’s Hospital for Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that affects approximately 400 children under the age of 20 in the United States each year.
Spence and O’Blenes met through one of her nurses at the hospital and the two struck an immediate friendship. While visiting her in December, he was enamored with some drawings she was doing on a blank piece of paper and he suggested the idea of designing a helmet.
“Her doodling to me looked incredible,’’ Spence said. “I left that day thinking I’d love to help her share in my journey to the Olympics. I presented her with a red helmet just before Christmas.’’
After about six hours of work with a Sharpie, she came up with the red, black, white and gold geometric designs on Spence’s helmet.
“I think for me it’s really about perseverance and not giving up, as cliché as that may sound,’’ O’Blenes said. “It was therapeutic to do that helmet. It’s something I can do when I’m waiting in bed and to do it for someone else who believes in me is pretty cool. As much as he always says I inspire him, he’s the one that really inspires me so it’s a mutual relationship.’’
As for being part of Spence’s Olympic experience, O’Blenes added, “I’ll be watching and cheering him on every step of the way. It’ll be super cool to see him race, it’ll be super cool to see him wearing my helmet … how great is that!’’