What Parents Can Learn: Shaun White’s Mettle

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Shaun began snowboarding when his family took him to the mountain as a family fun activity.  He found his passion and became obsessed with riding.  He has had a supportive family and the right coaches along the way.  It’s resulted in him becoming a snowboarding legend.  He will forever be the grand-daddy of the sport who defined it for the next generation of riders.  He has earned the gold medals and the $15 million dollar corporate reward.  But the equation for being a champion isn’t just <P = Z x E = $.  It includes C5.  To be a genuine, real deal champion, it takes core character to handle the process, the successes, and falls of becoming an extraordinary athlete as well as an extraordinary human being.

 

A friend of mine, Lanny Donoho, said that when things are hard, it puts a megaphone up to your heart.  What’s there is magnified for all to see.  I’ve also heard that when you become successful, it makes who you are, bigger….think about that….  Shaun has had enormous success and also had a tough time lately.  He had a pretty rugged crash during training that now casts shadows of cautionary hesitation on his attempts to land his gold-medal trick.  His critics are loud and harsh.  Pressure is always on to put on the show everyone is expecting.  He pulled out of slopestyle for publicly stated reasons, but maybe moreso because of new unfamiliar inward demons.  He failed to even get on the podium in his half-pipe domain.  It’s got to be crushing.  He’s had wild success…so who he is has been magnified, and now he’s got the megaphone up to his heart as he struggles.  And what are we seeing?  What are we hearing?

 

The Washington Post article is only a slice of what we can know about Shaun but we saw a reflex reaction in an unplanned moment. Read the article below)  I saw the cameras on him at the end of the half-pipe competition where he embraced the gold medalist in congratulation.  Both are only small indications of who he is, but it’s his C5 showing.  The point?  Shaun is a champion.  A genuine champion.  I’m sure he has his moments, like we all do, but what we’re seeing is his mettle. 

 

“For me to be remembered in this sport, I don’t know if tonight makes or breaks my place in the sport. I would like to be remembered as more than a snowboarder. This is one big part of who I am, but it’s not all who I am. So yeah.”-Shaun White.

 

Parents:  Life happens before and after, in and through the pursuit of any dream.  It’s also a continuous series of highs and lows, celebrations and struggles. Your child’s pursuit is something they will do, not who they are.  Who they are is determined by the character built into them.  To build a superstar athlete, build a champion human being. 

 

< P = Z x C5 x E

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — COLUMN | What happens when the story you came to write doesn’t become the story anymore? What happens when that story does a 180-degree turn in mid-air, then a 540 and finally a dizzying 1260, spinning your perception completely around?

I had heard Shaun White had become too big for his snowboard bindings. He didn’t hang with other members of the close-knit Team USA community. His “people” shut down halfpipes at ski resorts so White could ride by himself. He wasn’t the cool kid we once called the Flying Tomato anymore, a thatch of reddish-orange hair rising 22 feet off a wall of ice.

No, he was now the Descending Diva — S.W.E., Shaun White Enterprises, the $15-mil-per-year action sports icon — the world’s richest, most famous and now most isolated extreme star.

He needed to be put back in place, I thought. He needed to remember the, well, dudeliness that got him here.

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 / 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

 He high-fived them, they all kind of hugged as Ben shook his head in awe.

Said Kaitlyn: “I’m like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh, my God. I love him. He’s cuter in person.”

Liz Hughes finally covered her mouth as tears tumbled from her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said, grabbing my arm. “Thank you.”

“You’re . . . You’re . . .” I couldn’t speak. I just turned away, looked up at the mountains and wiped my eyes, finishing the “Welcome” part a minute later.

You think Ben was shocked? I came here ready to prick a legend’s balloon, resolute that the carefree kid I met eight years ago in Torino, who called his dad “The Rog,” was now an out-of-touch celebrity that didn’t connect with real people anymore.

And then that angle crumbled beneath a wall of emotion.

 The truth is, it was gone 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.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone this, but when he was on that hospital bed during the second surgery and I didn’t know what would happen to my child, a family friend came up and said something to me,” Cathy said. “We’re not religious and he was a Mormon, an LDS elder in the church. He said, ‘Don’t worry. Your son is going to make it. He is going to be all right. He is going to grow up and become somebody special.’ ”  

Shaun White did. He grew up to become the greatest snowboarder in the world, so famous and admired that in an instant he could change a child’s life by clearing another barrier.

“I wish him the best of health,” White said of Ben, hours later at a news conference, saying he really enjoyed the encounter. “For me to be remembered in this sport, I don’t know if tonight makes or breaks my place in the sport. I would like to be remembered as more than a snowboarder. This is one big part of who I am, but it’s not all who I am. So yeah.”

Did I mention he wiped out in his first run of the finals and ended up finishing fourth without a medal, the first time in three Olympics he hasn’t won gold? No. That’s because, in the scheme of things, it’s not tragic.

“He’s a very good guy,” Liz Hughes said, her eyes welling again. “He does a lot of good things for many people.”

For every kid with a terminal disease, for every reporter convinced he has found the essence of who a person is, there is a moral to this story:

Never be too sure of where you’re going because you might just end up someplace else, crying on a mountaintop with a mother whose child’s cancer is thankfully in remission, with a rich and famous action sports star who delivered the Olympic moment of his life on the day he failed to win a medal.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

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