More than any other team, freestyle aerialists are part of a tight-knit family. In a sport with few venues for athletes to showcase their skills, they've always hung together spending summer days poolside at the Utah Olympic Park or globetrotting around the planet in the winter seeking massive kickers sculpted to their specs.
The freestyle world lost more than a friend two years ago with Jeret "Speedy" Peterson's death. It lost a family member. If last year's debut Hurricane for Hope brought some sense of closure to the grief, this past weekend's event at the UOP brought a sense of celebration for all Speedy brought to his fellow athletes.
The family was together again. It was a mix of Speedy's early mentors, current teammates who knew him well and newcomers to the sport who were motivated by his legend. They were there for one reason to go huge!
"You put Speedy's name on an event and everyone knows they have to go big," said World Champion and Olympian Trace Worthington, who was a mentor to Speedy.
It was the Flying Ace All Stars' night to shine. Take veteran Matt Chojnacki, almost 40 years old and working for NASA, launching a triple twisting quadruple backflip. American Ninja Warrior star Brent Steffensen soaring off the trampoline. And Scotty Bahrke honoring Speedy with a Hurricane and learning, once again, how impressive it was that Speedy could land it like he did that night at Deer Valley and again in Vancouver.
But it was tough to match the story of rookie Kendal Johnson. Four years ago, Johnson had never heard of aerials. But on Feb. 25, 2010, watching the Olympics at his Wisconsin home, Johnson became enthralled with the sport as he watched Speedy stick the Hurricane and win Olympic silver. Saturday, Johnson threw a quintuple backflip the only American to ever land the trick. Speedy was his inspiration.
To the great credit of those around him friends, family, teammates no one has let Speedy's tragic death go forgotten. While Hurricane for Hope was an entertaining evening, it was also cause for raising awareness of suicide and mental health. Every athlete is now an ambassador!
For example, did you know that one in five Americans lives with a mental disorder with half starting before age 14? Or two-thirds of those don't seek treatment a quarter of those simply because of the stigma attached to it.
Mental illness is surprisingly common - it affects almost every family in America. It does not discriminate it can affect anyone. But studies show that most people with a mental illness get better, and many recover completely.
Saturday's fundraiser was a veritable who's who of the winter sports world: Olympian Emily Cook, who gave up her spot in 2002 to Speedy after a training crash before the Games; Olympic speed-skating champion Derek Parra, who had become close friends with Speedy over the years; Park City's own Nikki Stone, who blazed the way with Olympic gold in 1998 just five years after the opening of the Utah Olympic Park; Teammate and Olympic medalist Shannon Bahrke along with close friend and World Champion Ryan St. Onge; Olympic skeleton gold medalist Jimmy Shea; World champion cross country skier Kikkan Randall.
Speedy meant something to each of them, just as he did to thousands of fans.
Saturday dawned stormy over Park City. But amidst the darkened clouds, a rainbow appeared piercing the Wasatch sky and landing somewhere by the UOP. You couldn't help but think he was coming back for the day, to inspire his friends to go huge once again.
We miss you Speedy. Come back again!
Want to learn how you can help? Check out www.speedyfoundation.org .
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.