Byron Wells qualified for the New Zealand Olympic team in the inaugural ski halfpipe and was rightfully stoked. He was there with his brothers, Jossi and Beau-James, who had also qualified, so when he walked in the Opening Ceremony he tweeted his enthusiasm:
On his first training run he practiced a new trick, a switch double alley-oop, and landed poorly. At first he thought he broke his leg, but medics determined that it was instead significant tissue damage.
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Tuesday morning, just hours before the freeski halfpipe competition, Wells couldn’t walk, much less put his foot in a ski boot, and was forced to withdraw from the competition. He posted this image on Instagram which is, well, heartbreaking:
Wells wasn’t a favorite to stand on the podium – he’s ranked 16th in the world. But he's had strong finishes in international competition, including a 6th place at the 2013 Winter X-Games, and if the snowboard halfpipe was any indication, the Sochi pipe takes no prisoners and can be very unpredictable.
Regardless of medal chances, the 21-year-old Wells had a dream to compete in the Olympic competition alongside his brothers and the best in the world, and that dream was cut short. His photo is a powerful portrait of every athlete’s biggest enemy: injury.
It’s a position that other athletes like Heidi Kloser, Maggie Voisin, Arielle Gold and many others know well. The Olympic Games giveth and they taketh away. Here’s hoping that Wells, and all other injured athletes represented by his poignant photo, will be back in 2018 to finish what they started.
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