Shaun White wins hearts at Sochi, George Bush commends his 'Olympic spirit'

Published: Friday, Feb. 14 2014 12:20 p.m. MST

Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikov, left, celebrates with Shaun White of the United States after Podladtchikov won the gold medal in the men's snowboard halfpipe final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Several years ago, Shaun White didn't know if he was going to survive two open-heart surgeries let alone make it the Olympics three years in a row. But a family friend, who is Mormon, told White's mom he would turn out to be someone special.

Andy Wong, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Several years ago, snowboarding sensation Shaun White didn't know if he was going to survive two open-heart surgeries let alone make it the Olympics three years in a row.

But White's mother, Cathy, told The Washington Post that it was during that time that a family friend, who happened to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave her the comfort she needed.

"I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone this, but when he was on that hospital bed during the second surgery and I didn’t know what would happen to my child, a family friend came up and said something to me,” Cathy told The Washington Post. "We’re not religious and he was a Mormon, an LDS elder in the church. 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.' "

Now a two-time gold medalist receiving $15 million per year, Shaun White seems to have lived up to expectations. But after dropping out of the slopestyle event and then placing fourth in the halfpipe, he appeared to be ending his Olympic experience on a low note.

However, shortly after White saw his scores and knew he would not stand on the podium this year, the superstar revealed another side of himself. Once the scores were final, White congratulated and hugged the other competitors who outscored him.

NBC analyst Todd Richards gave commentary, stating that White was "trying to be gracious," but since that night many have commended White for his actions.

"White didn’t just try, he was the picture of grace during a time of crushing disappointment," David Bauder with The Associated Press wrote. "He gave a lesson in sportsmanship that deserves to be remembered with his athletic accomplishments."

While many fans on Twitter were caught up in discussing the shocking loss, others also pointed out White's class, including President George H.W. Bush.

Not only did White walk away from the podium with grace, he took the time to make two young kids' dreams come true as well.

Washington Post reporter Mike Wise was there from the start and reported on the experience.

"About an hour before White competed, I met a freckle-faced St. Louis kid with a stars-and-stripes beanie and a little miniature flag named Ben Hughes, his mother Liz, and their friend, Kaitlyn Lyles. Turns out Ben and Kaitlyn are here because of the Make-A-Wish Foundation," Wise wrote.

Wise goes on to explain that both Kaitlyn and Ben had fought off cancer and were big fans of Shaun White. Although they were ecstatic to be at the snowboarding event, Wise found out that they would not be able to meet their hero.

Pulling some media strings, Wise quickly made the press officer for the U.S. snowboard team aware of the situation, hoping that the message would get to White in time.

Shortly after Wise's exchange, White finished up his TV and media interviews and started walking in the direction of Ben and Kaitlyn. Instead of standing behind several barriers that separated the athletes and the crowd, White jumped the fence to reach his two fans.

"I don’t know if White has caught more rarefied air in that moment, catapulting himself in one leap over the barricade," Wise wrote. "I do know one 10-year-old’s life will never be the same."

Email: spetersen@deseretnews.com

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