Shaun White: An Inspiration to our Heart Heroes

Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, had two cardiac surgeries before the age of 5 due to a congenital heart defect.

The results are in for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, but which feel-good story captures the Gold? According to Mike Wise of the Washington Post, it´s the story of 10 year old Ben Hughes (survivor of acute lymphoblastic leukemia) and 19 year old Kaitlyn Lyles (survivor of osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer). Both were Sochi courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Two very different survivors brought together to watch their shared hero, USA snowboarding legend, Shaun White in live competition.

Turns out both survivors had become very fond of Shaun White while going through extensive cancer treatments. Both found inspiration in the young gold-medalist when discovering the athlete in television coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Journalist, Mike Wise was in attendance for a different reason. He was planning on writing a less than flattering story on Shaun White´s fall from social graces. The once celebrated White had reportedly become somewhat of a recluse opting to keep his distance from the tight-knit USA Olympic team and preferring to train alone. Wise´s story was to be one of a fallen hero; loved to loathed.

The story hit a dead end in Sochi when Wise met Kaitlyn, Ben and his mother. He inquired when they would get to meet Shaun White and Ben´s mother indicated that it wasn´t part of the deal… they would come within a few feet of their hero but could only watch the athletes from the spectator side of the barrier. Moved by the situation, Wise approached the press officer of the USA snowboard team and planted a seed.

The seed took root as the message was quickly conveyed to Shaun White. Moments later, he leaped over the 4 and half-foot spectator barrier to greet and embrace the two young survivors making their dream come true. The result was a cascade of tears shared by Kaitlyn, Ben, his mother and Journalist, Mike Wise.


The truth is that Wise´s story was obliterated before the tears. Hours before Wise had spoken with Shaun White´s mother about her son´s fading public perception. She reminded Wise that her son is a survivor of two open-heart surgeries as a young child and that he belongs to the Zipper Club, an organization of children whose chests bare a scar from these surgeries.

White donates 8 percent of his annual earnings to the St. Jude´s children´s fund. Shaun´s sister underwent 19 brain surgeries as a child. Shaun´s mother went on to share that when her boy was hospitalized a family friend provided words of encouragement; 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.” Words to cling onto, words to remember and celebrate.

Shaun White didn´t bring home a gold medal this year. He had a fall during his first run and placed fourth, just out of contention. But for two young fans it hardly seemed to matter.

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