Jan 23, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT
Bryan Fletcher began experiencing headaches, sleeping a lot and losing weight around age 3.
His parents took him to a doctor, and he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“When I first found out about it, I thought it was a death sentence,” his ski patrolman father, Tim, told Yahoo! Sports.
Bryan underwent several years of chemotherapy, including suffering a stroke, before his cancer went into remission by age 10. He entered kindergarten with a bald head but made light of his condition by painting it green and wearing a matching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outfit.
The treatments, such as spinal taps, were excruciatingly painful to the point that Tim would hang onto Bryan as he screamed.
During that time, Bryan picked up Nordic combined. Ski jumping and cross-country skiing kept his spirits alive living in his hometown trademarked, “Ski Town USA.”
His doctors in Denver, a 2 1/2-hour drive away, didn’t want him to jump.
“At that point, I didn’t have a very great life expectancy [15 percent],” Bryan told the Deseret News. “So [my mom] just figured, ‘Let him do what he wants to do.'”
Fletcher persevered and had a shot at the 2010 Olympics until he fell down the stairs one month before the Vancouver Games and badly sprained an ankle. Younger brother Taylor made the team instead.
Bryan went, too, but as a volunteer forejumper to test out the ski jumping hill before the competition. Bryan had done the same as a 15-year-old at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
He didn’t give up and spent the last four years improving to become the top-ranked U.S. skier, even meeting the king of Norway after winning an event, and was named to the four-man Olympic Team on Wednesday. So was Taylor.
The battle with cancer will be on Bryan’s mind in Sochi. He teamed with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Utah to select two children to design artwork on his helmet for the Olympics.
“I look back and think that dealing with cancer might have been a good thing,” Bryan told Steamboat Today. “If I could beat cancer, then I can beat any challenge in my life. It taught me to fight — especially when things get tough.”
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