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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Juan Jose Carlos arranges helmets while Paz Calderon starts a run during the tryouts for the youth Olympic team.

SALT LAKE CITY — At 14 years old, Mia Mora has lived more than most. She used to be a troubled teen with little concern about her future, but today she is an athlete who will start preparing herself in the mountains of Utah, looking forward to winning an Olympic medal for Mexico.

Mia's journey began earlier this year when her mother, Phyllis Mora, was laid off from her job at a local restaurant. Things were OK for the first few months. Phyllis Mora borrowed money from friends to buy food for Mia and pay the rent on the condo they'd shared for five years. But soon the money ran out and the mother and daughter were thrust out onto the street.

"I had a garage sale to raise some cash, then we stayed a few days with friends, others in the car," Phyllis Mora said. "I spent some days sleeping in the back of my friend's car, and we also stored some of our stuff, just to avoid carrying everything around."

Mia Mora struggled. She'd lost her space. She'd lost her freedom. She felt like she'd lost her identity.

"You have everything, you're used to doing what you want, to have your stuff in the place you want, and suddenly everything falls apart," Mia Mora said.

She funneled her aggression into sports. And soon, things began to turn around.

First, Phyllis Mora learned about a national nonprofit organization that provides temporary housing for the homeless. Family Promise found the two temporary housing and provided them with food and basic living essentials.

Then, Mia Mora's teacher at Granite Middle School took her aside. Would she like to represent Mexico at the first Winter Youth Olympics in 2012?

Mia Mora, whose father is Mexican, didn't know anything about bobsled or skeleton, but she didn't hesitate. On her first day on the mountain, she wowed the coaches. Because of her superior scores, she was awarded a grant to cover the cost of training.

"She is a very smart girl, a born leader who knows how to listen to instructions and that's very important in this sport," said Juan Jose Carlos, coach and director of the Mexican Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation.

Now Mia Mora spends her days in the mountains training with 10 other teenage Olympic hopefuls. Some of them have never been to Mexico, but their Latin roots and heritage are helping them represent the Aztec flag.

In their second training session in Park City, the young athletes improved their times on the skeleton board, Carlos said.

"Each one of them was superior on their second tryout," Carlos said. "To go down 20 hundredths of a second, in one day is really a big step forward."

Some of the athletes will go on to race for America's Cup or the World Junior Championships. Three, including Mia Mora, will compete in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

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Mia has a unique opportunity to make history with the Olympic team, Carlos said. Because of her age, she can participate in the Winter Youth Olympics in 2012. She'll also be eligible to compete in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

With the support of Family Promise, Phyllis Mora landed a new and stable job. She's saved enough money for a house. She and Mia will move in within the next few days. In addition to her rigorous bobsled/skeleton training, Mia is taking up boxing. She is still attending school and taking modern dance lessons.

"It's funny how I always try to help out other people, and then it was my turn to ask for and to accept help from others," Phyllis Mora said.

e-mail: tnavarro@desnews.com