BeYourOwnIcon: Torin Yater-Wallace
One of the greatest gifts life can ever offer anyone is the gift of good health. Often taken for granted, good health is fundamental in defining the quality of life that an individual lives. There’s a quote that goes ‘we are all a sickness away from poverty’. Disease can take away a part of us that we may never get back. It can ruin a family, a career and turn our lives all around.
However, for the strong willed, disease is just a bump on the road- a distraction from their goals. Such is the case of Torin Yater- Wallace, a twenty two year old who has been through some horrendous experiences but emerged a victor of his circumstances.
Torin Yater- Wallace is one of the best free skiers in the world. His coach Elena Chase describes him as “An icon of the sport, a deity in our sport”. He is widely recognized for winning the X Games gold medal in Oslo after a life threatening condition. In 2010, at the age of 14, he entered the USASA Nationals, the nation’s top competition for amateur skiers and snowboarders. He was the youngest skier in both slopestyle and halfpipe, but he won them both, scoring a preposterous 9.73 in the halfpipe. He stunned the skiing world at the age of 15 when he won a silver medal at the 2011 X Games competition making him the youngest medalist in the event’s history.
For the first decade of his life, Yater-Wallace grew up in a wealthy Aspen, Colo., home. His father, Ron Wallace, ran a successful wine futures business, Rare Fine Wines LLC, selling expensive wine that had yet to be bottled. Wallace became viewed as an industry expert. He bought a BMW and joined an opulent country club.
In the early- to mid-2000s, contemporary news outlets reported that customers had stopped receiving wine they had paid for and alleged he had been running a Ponzi scheme, using payments for wine only to enrich himself. The first lawsuits came in 2003. The FBI ran a major crimes investigation. In 2005, Wallace pleaded guilty to counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and conducting an unlawful monetary transaction. He faced 70 years in prison.
Although he initially avoided jail, prosecutors ultimately sentenced Wallace to pay back $11 million, along with five years of probation and two of home detention. Wallace ended up bankrupt. In 2010, a judge sentenced him to nine months in federal prison and 27 months of supervised release for multiple violations of his probation. The case closed in 2011 with Wallace still owing creditors — who included major league pitcher Jamie Moyer and ESPN broadcaster Chris Fowler — more than $20 million.
As Wallace’s business spiraled, Stace, his wife, did everything in her power to protect Yater-Wallace. He focused on his skiing even as their finances grew dire. He would move from house to house, his stuff constantly packed and unpacked. As he started winning as an early teen, his prize money would help make ends meet. He viewed it not as a burden but as a release.
Yater-Wallace is passionate about skiing. His friend Michael Spencer says ‘Skiing to him is a release. He doesn’t do a trick because he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to win.’ He feels the trick.” The sport is an escape for him whenever his life is getting out of hand. He doesn’t do it to win but because it’s in him, it runs in his blood. Such passion is sure to produce a masterpiece as evident in the case of Yater-Wallace.
Yater-Wallace has had a rough path in matters relating to his health. In early 2013, he underwent a dry-needling treatment, a routine measure to alleviate soreness in his back. The therapist however drove the needle too deep and punctured his lung. He realized what had happened the following day when he began to have trouble breathing and had to be rushed to hospital.
In November 2015, Yater-Wallace woke up and thought he had a flu. He went skiing like he had always done. Back at home, he ached and shivered. Several doctors told him that he had the flu. However, his temperature kept on rising and he had to visit the emergency room on a daily basis over the next four days. In his words he said “I had never been so sick in my life. I hope nobody ever experiences that in their entire life.”
It turned out that he had a condition called Streptococcus anginosus. This is a rare bacterial infection which often attacks people above the age of 40. Yater-Wallace was only 19 when he contracted it. Doctors had never seen anything like it.
An abscess had formed in Yater-Wallace’s liver, which caused his lungs to flood with fluid. It infected his gall bladder and made his organs expand. Four days after he had woken up feeling ill, doctors wheeled him into the ICU and placed him in medically induced paralysis.
During the eight days that he remained unconscious in hospital the doctors almost gave up on him. At one point his nurse informed his mother to call his dad and sister because the chances of him recovering were diminishing. Yater-Wallace only remembers the odd dreams he had during this period and waking up feeling thirsty and terrified. He had been fed through a tube for 10 days. He had lost 25 pounds.
Yater-Wallace’s recovery was slow and had complications. Throughout his recovery, he only had one thought in mind- he wanted to go skiing. Yater-Wallace decided he wanted to ski in the European X Games at the start of 2016, just two months after his ordeal. Doctors made an ultimatum: He could have surgery to remove his gall bladder, which would sideline him for a month, or he could pull the PICC line out of his gall bladder and compete in Oslo. He chose the latter and traveled to Europe. Two months after he had been in medically induced paralysis, Yater-Wallace won the X Games gold medal in Oslo.
Despite his financial obstacles and his health troubles, Yater-Wallace is an example of absolute bravery in the face of uncertainty. His pursuit of what sets his soul on fire is remarkable in all dimensions. For his courage, bravery and passion for free skiing, American Sunglass would like to call him out as an icon!
We wish him great luck in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics but we have a feeling that luck will have little to do with it!
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