Then the story forked. Maybe I should explain.
About an hour before White competed, I met a freckle-faced, St. Louis kid with a stars-and-stripes beanie and a little miniature flag named Ben Hughes, his mother Liz, and their friend, Kaitlyn Lyles. Turns out Ben and Kaitlyn are here because of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Ben got a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia at 6 years old. He underwent 2 1 / 2 years of radiation and chemotherapy. Before he finished his treatments at the end of 2012, he had found two new inspirations in life: snowboarding and Shaun White. He loved both.
Kaitlyn learned of White while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games on television from her hospital bed at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., where she underwent chemotherapy for osteosarcoma, a rare form of blood cancer.
“I was literally in that hospital room for all of February,” she said. “Shaun White is what really got me through. I loved that even after he clinched the gold medal, he still went for it, trying tricks and refusing to coast when he won.”
Kaitlyn playfully vowed not to leave Sochi before she was Mrs. Shaun White.
I asked when the kids would get to meet White.
“They don’t,” Liz said. “That’s not part of the deal. We just get to watch. They go home Friday after we see a hockey game. This is our only day here. I know. What can you do?”
In journalism school, they tell you early on not to get involved in the story. Keep professional distance from subjects and sources to maintain objectivity or something like that. But these kids were thisclose to their Olympic dream. Shoot, Kaitlyn was the length of two snowboards away from her future husband. Two cancer survivors had traveled almost 6,000 miles to get within maybe seven feet of their athletic hero and some rule or protocol was going to forbid them from actually meeting?
Hell with Olympic rules.
I went over to Nick Alexakos, press officer for the U.S. snowboard team, told him about Ben, the kid behind me in the beanie. I held back on Kaitlyn, thinking her chances of having a restraining order put on her were greater than meeting him if I mentioned the Mrs. White stuff.
So now here comes White, finishing up with the TV reporters and about to meet up with the print media in the mixed zone, about 20 yards from Ben and Kaitlyn. “Hey, if I lift that 10-year-old kid over the barricade, will I get in trouble?” I ask my clear-headed colleague, Rick Maese, who gave me the nyet look. “I wouldn’t do it, dude.”
I was torn when White suddenly made the decision for me. Alexakos directed him to where Ben was, their eyes met and that was it.
I don’t know if White has caught more rarefied air in that moment, catapulting himself in one leap over the barricade. I do know one 10-year-old’s life will never be the same.
Photo courtesy of Ben Trimmer
Edit: to hopefully minimize any fair use issues.