U.S. Olympic halfpipe skier Torin Yater-Wallace‘s last three Winter X Games in Aspen:
2014: Pulled out before the final while still recovering from a collapsed lung and two broken ribs suffered in separate fall 2013 incidents.
2015: Pulled out after suffering a concussion in a practice-week crash.
2016: Finished fifth, two weeks after being cleared to ski following an infection that affected his gall bladder, liver and lungs and put him on life support (which has been well documented).
“I’ve had a few years with this certain event that, for some reason, somebody doesn’t want me to compete there healthy,” Yater-Wallace said last week. “I’m not exactly one to set goals very often. I just want to compete and ski as best as I can and be happy with my performance. If I can do that, I would hope I get a good result.”
Yater-Wallace has endured more health scares than just about any other 21-year-old Olympian.
Before the setbacks, he was a teen sensation, making the X Games podium in 2011, 2012 and 2013, winning the Sochi Olympic test event and taking silver at the 2013 World Championships.
Though Yater-Wallace missed most of the 2013-14 season with the broken ribs and collapsed lung, he was still named to the Olympic team due to his international record. Less than 100 percent, Yater-Wallace fell on both of his qualifying runs in a rain-drenched Sochi halfpipe and finished 26th out of 28 skiers.
Neither of his next two seasons were smooth. But this year, he’s stayed in good health.
“When something like that happens, you really get a new appreciation for everyday life and the life that I’ve been fortunate enough to be living as a professional skier,” Yater-Wallace said, emphasizing the most recent and life-threatening scare, the infection a little over a year ago. “That first day, week and month of skiing, following me becoming healthy after that, I just had such a great smile on my face every day I was in the mountains, as cliché as it might sound as a skier, being happy, smiling in the mountains. It really was the only way I can describe it. It was amazing to be outside and breathing fresh air, not confined to the white walls of a hospital.”
After a month and a half back on skis, Yater-Wallace capped his comeback by winning X Games Oslo last February.
“I never appreciated a podium or a win at an event like I did that day,” said Yater-Wallace, who sees special breathing doctors monthly and uses an inhaler daily. “It felt like such a gift.”
He beat all of the world’s best halfpipe skiers in Oslo — Aspen X Games champion Kevin Rolland of France, Olympic champion David Wise and Gus Kenworthy, who competes in halfpipe and slopestyle and might just be the world’s best freestyle skier.
He’ll face them again Friday night in Aspen.
“We almost lost a friend last year,” Wise said last fall. “When you’re put through something like that, you get a new lease on life, and it makes you just that much more grateful to be around. That’s what I saw in Torin last year, and I think it’s going to contribute to his success as a skier. He’s not focused on the petty things anymore. He almost died last year.”Follow @nzaccardi