Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shaun White's Other, Glorious Side of the Mountain

This may be a puff piece, with the reporter inside the story, but I'm taking him at his word. This is the Shaun White I want. This is the Sochi Olympics I want. It's better than the one I tried to boycott:
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.
The funny thing about this story is that I, like the writer, was happy that Shaun White was "knocked down a peg" when he lost out on a medal. Boy, am I righteous:
The truth is, it was gone [the writer's original angle on the story] the moment I met his mother behind the stands hours earlier, before White had hurdled that barrier. I asked Cathy White what she thought of the backlash against her son, including competitors using social media to skewer him for either pulling out of the slopestyle event or not being one of the guys. She felt bad for him, saying, “It’s funny: They will tweet things, but up on the mountain they will be right next to him and not say anything.”
She reminded me Shaun is a survivor of two open-heart surgeries as a young child, that he belongs to the “Zipper Club,” with children whose chests have been surgically cut open. He gives 8 percent of his $15 million a year to the St. Jude’s children’s fund. Shaun’s sister, Cathy’s daughter, underwent 19 brain surgeries as a child.
It's times like this that cynics, like myself at times, can use a little brain and heart surgery, too.

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