PARK CITY — When Taylor Fletcher stares down one of those inevitable days when training feels more like punishment than privilege and his Olympic dream feels more like fantasy than reality, he only has to summon the face of his father to find all the motivation he needs.
“Things that I thought were bad are nowhere near as bad when I look at the grand scale of what he’s dealing with and what he’s going through,” said Taylor Fletcher, a two-time Olympian who will compete alongside his older brother, Bryan, for a spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team Saturday at Utah Olympic Park. “But the one thing I know is that he’s a fighter, and he’s going to keep going, and nothing is going to change that.”
Tim Fletcher was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, and even though he’s lost his ability to speak and some of his upper body mobility to the progressive neurodegenerative disease for which there is no cure, he’s doing what the Fletcher’s do – making the most of every minute of every day.
“He is still skiing, and he still rides his Harley,” Taylor said smiling. “He’s having the time of his life, essentially, when he’s having the worst time of his life. To me that’s something that’s very impressive and very motivating.”
Finding joy in situations that seem saturated in sadness is sort of a Fletcher family tradition. It really began before he was born to Tim and Penny Fletcher in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Taylor Fletcher was born 11 days after his older brother Bryan was diagnosed with leukemia.
He doesn’t remember much about his brother’s fight or the emotional struggle his parents endured, but he acknowledges that it changed the way they planned to parent their two boys.
“They definitely wanted us to have more fun,” Taylor said. “Seeing the fun that Bryan was having when he was going through chemotherapy and radiation, and him being able to go to the clubs and train every so often, it really showed how much fun the sport is, so they kept that along with me. That’s what was important.”
Doctors advised their parents not to allow Bryan to participate in ski jumping while he endured seven years of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. But their parents were adamant that whatever life their son had would be filled with joy.
“Both my mom and dad, they were super supportive of us,” said Taylor, who is four years younger than Bryan. “My dad helped us get the skiing skills, and my mom funded us through the whole thing, so what more can you ask for is supportive parents like that? It was very important.”
Taylor fancied himself a hockey star until his inability to stop convinced him to follow his brother into Nordic Combined, a sport that is wildly popular in Europe but almost unknown in the U.S. It combines two sports — ski jumping and cross-country skiing — and the U.S. won its first medals in the sport in 2010, when Taylor edge his brother for the fifth and final spot on the team. Both men made the 2014 Olympic team, and they are at once fierce rivals and constant companions.
Bryan asserts that Taylor is the more competitive of the brothers, and Taylor accepts that label.
“I think the younger sibling is always a little more competitive because he wants to show that he’s not the little one,” Taylor said, adding that playing a variety of sports as a kid fed his competitive nature. “But what really installed a high level of competition in my personality was when I got named to the national team.”
He was competing alongside legends like Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane, as well as his big brother. The last thing he wanted to be was an ‘also-ran.’ Training, living and competing with his brother has advantages, as well as disadvantages.
“There are times when we’re yelling at each other and pushing each other,” Taylor said, smiling. “I think it’s a little higher level (rivalry) than most siblings because we’re so competitive and so close.” This year the brothers decided not to train together as much, so they’ve taken some breaks from one and other.
“That brings a higher energy and motivation between us, and that’s really important,” Taylor said. “Our relationship off the snow has always been great. He’s super supportive of me and helps me out whenever possible.” Bryan said it’s their friendship and rivalry that will make Saturday’s Olympic Trials even more exciting.
“It’s fun,” Bryan said. “We know how to push each other’s buttons; we know how to beat each other, and that’s what makes for some really tough competition. …And if either of us come away with the win, that would be an awesome day.”
The Olympic Trials are free and open to the public. Ski jumping starts at 10 a.m., with the 10K cross-country race at 1 p.m.