Moments after qualifying for the halfpipe final with the best score in the competition, two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White did a round of TV interviews and was about to meet with another group of reporters when he hurdled the fence in the mixed zone to make a kid’s wish come true.
If it sounds Disneyesque, it is.
Ten-year-old Ben Hughes of St. Louis, had leukemia diagnosed in 2010. He came there with Kaitlyn Lyle, a 19-year-old Alabama undergrad, who four years ago lay in a hospital bed at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., undergoing chemotherapy treatments for osteo sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
They were part of the Make-a-Wish Foundation’s party in Sochi. Both their dreams involving coming to the Winter Games and seeing their hero, White, the red-headed extreme sports star who won gold in the halfpipe in Torino and Vancouver.
“I was hospitalized all of February in 2010 and watching Shaun helped me get through that time in my life,” Kaitlyn said, a good hour before White took the slopes. “My goal is to leave here as Mrs. Shaun White. Okay, maybe not. But it would be cool to meet him.”
Ben’s mother, Liz, said her son had undergone radiation and chemotherapy and has been cancer-free for some time.
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White didn’t know any of this. But hearing both kids’ stories, I told the U.S. snowboarding press attache that White might want to consider saying hello to the kids as he passed through the mixed zone — which is about an eight-feet swath of snow from the barricaded area where fans watch. While Ben and Kaitlyn wouldn’t get to touch Shaun, at least they could wave and say hi from behind the plastic barrier.
That all changed when White saw Ben in his USA beanie cap and waving his miniature American flag. He leapt over the barrier, catching some of the best air of his career.
Both kids were ashen-faced and didn’t know what to say at first before they all exchanged hugs and kind words for about a minute. Liz Hughes began crying, and another day at the Olympics was pretty much awesome before even the halfpipe finals arrived.
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