Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From Leukemia to Sochi: Fletcher Brothers Aim for Olympic Greatness

From Leukemia to Sochi: Fletcher Brothers Aim for Olympic Greatness

The ski jumps of Howelsen Hill are hard to miss as you drive down Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Naturally derived from the hillside overlooking the small ski town, the jumps have served as a springboard for many athletes looking to make their way to the Winter Olympics.
For the town’s locals, the jumps are a source of entertainment, training, or amusement. For one child, they were life saving.

A Childhood in Question: Finding Relief in Skiing
Growing up, Bryan Fletcher had no idea of what his future would hold. Diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia just before turning three, the Steamboat Springs native was uncertain what life would be like while undergoing treatment for such a serious disease.


Despite the gravity of his situation, Bryan wanted to have the semblance of normal childhood. For the young child who had always “hit every bump and jump” on the side of a trail, that normalcy would take the form of a sport not so ordinary to the average American child: ski jumping.

“As a young kid I remember saying to my parents, ‘those are the biggest jumps in the world! I have to do at least once in my life. That would be so cool.’ Shortly thereafter my parents signed me up for a learn-to-jump program and from the first day I was hooked,” said Bryan in an interview. “I couldn’t get enough of it and every time I went off a jump I would just be running straight up to the next one.”

His start in the sport corresponded more-or-less with the start of his treatment.  From the age of four, would take week-long trips to Denver to receive his chemotherapy and then hurry back to Steamboat Springs to ensure he got in as many jumps as possible. While he listened carefully to do everything the Doctors asked of him, jumping was the one thing with which there was no compromise. It was the main source of happiness for Bryan, and his parents just couldn’t tell him to stop.
“For two hours a day while I was training with my friends I was a worry free, happy, normal kid and that was all that mattered in the end.” – Bryan Fletcher
Bryan would continue to fight his leukemia for seven years, going trough several year cycles of chemotherapy and remission. But the ordeal wouldn’t end there. In the middle of his treatment he survived a stroke that he was fortunate enough to escape relatively unharmed. Finally, after serval years of treatment he went into sustained remission.

Through those seven years, Bryan also was looking for new ways to challenge himself, and that’s where cross country skiing came in. Once involved, he learned of nordic combined, and the rest was history.
Once in remission, his career in nordic combined took off and he made the Junior World Championship team in 2003, 2005, and 2006. As a result from his rise in the nordic combined racing community, he was named to the U.S. Ski Team in 2004 and competed in this first World Championships in 2007 in Sapporo, Japan. He would continue his World Championship runs with appearances in 2011 and 2013
But Bryan’s career wasn’t the only one born out of his disease.

While he made his trips back and forth between Denver, Bryan’s brother, Taylor, watched with admiration as his older sibling balanced the challenges of chemotherapy and joy of ski jumping.
Taylor soon joined a learn-to-jump program himself, instantly fell in love with the sport.

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