Injuries cost two US skiers their first shot at Olympic glory but led them to each other

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

Yater-Wallace considers himself a glass-half-full type of guy. This trait has unexpected origins.

His father, Ronald Wallace, pleaded guilty to fraud related to the sales of exclusive wines. His mother, Stace, battled cancer.

"If you're pissed off the whole time, it's not going to make anything better," he says. "I learned to have optimism."

His time in the ICU? The multiple surgeries Hendrickson endured? He looks on the bright side, insisting that adversity "kind of brought us together. It was our way to relate."

Hendrickson isn't quite as sanguine, saying: "I'm the negative one in the relationship."

Moving into her parents' home in Utah, turning the living room into a rehab ward, they needed each other.

It might not have mattered that he remained doggedly upbeat while she occasionally moped. When you listen to them reminisce about that time, something becomes clear.

He worried about her. She worried about him. It helped each of them to look past their own struggles.

"Just having somebody there," he says. "It's better than sitting around lonely, not knowing when it will be over and when you're going to catch a break."

They watched television and, as their strength improved, took walks together. Eventually, they went to the gym.

Yater-Wallace progressed faster and began feeling an urge to ski, but still had drainage tubes inserted in his abdomen. Doctors warned that removing them too soon would increase the chances of re-infection.

That wasn't about to stop Yater-Wallace. Not even close.

Three months after leaving the hospital, he took fifth at the 2016 X Games in Aspen. When asked about his hasty return, Hendrickson hesitates.

"It was his decision and he's old enough to make that decision," she says after a moment, adding: "That's how we work together. We support each other."

The past month has been a good one.


A third-place finish at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in mid-January secured Yater-Wallace's spot on the American team. The next week, the 22-year-old took bronze at the X Games.

Solid results make him a favorite to reach the podium in Pyeongchang. They allow him to look back and call the past four years "an amazing ride."

Hendrickson qualified by winning the U.S. team trials, where she landed a big jump and thrust her fists into the air as she reached the bottom of the hill.

Her prospects in South Korea are not as bright; three years and a total of four knee surgeries have passed since the 23-year-old finished among the top three in an international competition.

Still, she seems at peace.

"Of course I train every day because I want to win a medal," she says. "But I don't want to set my goals so that I walk away disappointed."

This perspective reflects a change, something she and Yater-Wallace have adopted. It has little to do with the gold-or-bust approach that many elite athletes take.

"Regardless of what happens at the Olympics, we're proud of the journey we've had and what we've come back from," she says.

This time around, they just want to be healthy. They want a chance to give their best.

It is a mind-set forged from hardship. As Yater-Wallace says: "Life kind of teaches you lessons."

(c)2018 Los Angeles Times

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