Meet Some of the Team U.S.A. Athletes Preparing for the Winter Olympics
Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Park City, Utah on Sept. 27, 2017. She listens to electronic swing music while training.Mike Blake / Reuters file
With 100 days until the 23rd Olympic Winter Games kick off in PyeongChang, South Korea, it’s time to meet a few of the top medal contenders.
With the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, athletes from around the world will compete for at least one of the 102 gold medals up for grabs in 15 sports, including alpine skiing, curling, figure skating and speed skating.
The PyeongChang Paralympic Winter Games will take place in March with 80 medal events.
From figure skaters and skiers, to bobsledders and snowboarders, meet some of Team U.S.A.’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls poised to captivate the world:
“We had the hoop in the backyard and I would drive for layups with my tongue out like Michael Jordan and that was my passion,” Alex Shibutani said. “But I got taken to the rink to watch [Maia] skate and I saw she was having such a good time, and so I gave it a try.”
The siblings initially skated separately, but joined forces when Maia was 10 and Alex was 13 — and they never looked back. The “Shib Sibs” said both their partnership and performances have never been stronger, and they are determined to finish on the podium in February.
“I think we're hoping for that moment that you always dream about,” Maia Shibutani said. “We had that great experience in 2014 being on Olympic ice so we're both excited to be back. We've changed so much since then, we've grown and improved so to really just take that moment and show what we've been doing that would be amazing.”
Bryan Fletcher first fell in love with skiing at age 4, a year after he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I remembering asking at some point, ‘Am I going to die?’” he said. “They were like ‘No, of course not, you just have to do this, get through this sickness so you can be a normal kid again.’”
Fletcher said it was difficult to be a normal kid because he constantly felt tired once he started chemotherapy. He also suffered a stroke at age 5 due to an allergic reaction from a chemotherapy drug.
Fletcher said skiing helped him get through the most difficult part of his life. After chemotherapy and lots of skiing, he went into remission at age 8.
“Going through something like that, it gives you a little bit of maturity at a younger age, but you also realize that there is more out there than just the competition,” Fletcher said. “You're not so focused on, ‘I have to do well in this competition to be happy or to be fulfilled in life.’ I'm grateful just to be out there with the opportunity and try to achieve a better me every day.”
But in December 2014, Meyers Taylor became the first American woman to compete in a four-man bobsled World Cup event against and alongside men. She became the first American woman to win a world title just two months later.
“In [the] bobsled, the only thing left for me to do is go out and win that gold medal. I want it really bad. I want it so bad I can taste it,” she said. “The biggest advice that my father has given me … He’s always told me that [my] career as an athlete is very short, so [I] have to take the moment and enjoy it.”
In July 1999, snowboarder Amy Purdy was a 19-year-old working as a massage therapist in Las Vegas when her life took an unexpected turn.
Less than 24 hours after she left her job early suffering from flu-like symptoms, Purdy was fighting for her life after contracting bacterial meningitis. She was given a less than 2 percent chance of living.
Purdy managed to survive the infection, but lost her spleen, kidneys, hearing in her left ear and both of her legs below the knees.
Purdy longed to snowboard again, and spent more than a year researching prosthetics and talking to manufacturers about creating legs that would allow her to snowboard. A week after her 21st birthday, she also received a life-saving gift from her dad — one of his kidneys.
Several months after her kidney transplant, Purdy embarked on a snowboarding trip where she met her husband, and soon founded Adaptive Action Sports, a non-profit organization dedicated to introducing people with physical disabilities to action sports. Purdy later went on to become a three-time snowboarding world champion, winning the bronze medal during the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics.
“I’ve had so many challenges in my life that have turned out to be blessings in disguises, and so I try to focus on that,” she said. “I try to remember that some of the worst-case scenarios that I was faced with happened, and that I survived.”