Will Rhoads and Colton Kissell soar together | ParkRecord.com

Will Rhoads and Colton Kissell soar together

Christopher Kamrani, The Park Record

They no longer live in the same neighborhood, five houses away from one another, where they grew up doing everything boys do. The video-game marathons, the summer trips to Lake Powell, the introductory golf camps, skateboarding, dirt biking in Moab, water skiing at Jordanelle Reservoir and, most importantly, skiing, were among the activities shared by best friends Will Rhoads and Colton Kissell.

"They basically learned how to do everything together," said Christine Rhoads in an e-mail, "starting on small training-wheeled bikes terrorizing the neighborhood."

Kissell was more matter-of-fact when describing his childhood memories with Rhoads.

"Occasionally we would just go out and have little bike races sometimes," he said, "just to see who was the fastest and see who won at the top of the hill."

Now, 11 years since their friendship formed, Will Rhoads (ski jumping) and Colton Kissell (Nordic combined) are both headed to the inaugural Youth Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, in two weeks.

The story of how Rhoads, 16, and Kissell, 15, became Junior Olympians is a typical one of best friends following suit.

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In the summer of 2002, Kissell enrolled in a "Learn to Ski Jump" camp at the Utah Olympic Park. As his excitement for the sport grew, he joined a youth ski-jumping program.

"Will joined the activity without even trying it just because his best friend was doing it," Christine Rhoads said. "The rest is history. They have been competing ever since, each taking their turn on the podium year after year."

In the beginning, both Rhoads and Kissell were Nordic combined athletes. They excelled in the six years prior to their first North American Junior Olympics competition in Michigan in 2008. The pair was taken under the wings of former Olympian ski jumper Alan Alborn and Gordon Lange, head coach of the Park City Nordic Ski Club.

As Rhoads was competing in the target competition in 2008, he overshot the landing and in his attempt to recover, leaned back, fell, and ended up shattering his femur. His broken bone mended and the two qualified for two more Junior Olympics in 2009 and 2010.

Following the 2010 competition in Steamboat Springs, Colo., Kissell, as his mother Lisa said, became "burnt out in the sport and ended up taking a summer off."

But that’s when things changed and, in retrospect, set up the possibility for the best friends to go to Innsbruck together.

"During this time, Will (Rhoads) no longer had his friend to train with on the cross-country portion of Nordic combined and instead turned his efforts to special jumping," Lisa Kissell said in an e-mail. "That next winter, Colton decided to return to the jump hill and cross-country course, and this is where their paths veered in different directions."

In the 2011 Junior National Championships in Salisbury, Conn., the pair figured out a way to compete with one another once again as Rhoads was convinced by Kissell and coaches to team up in the Nordic combined team event. The pair finished second in the team-jumping event and first in team Nordic combined competition. Kissell earned the title of Junior National Champion in the individual Nordic combined event.

"There’s a pretty strong connection between us," Colton Kissell said. "We just kind of know our strengths and weaknesses, and it showed in the qualifier in Lake Placid."

The pair stamped their ticket to Innsbruck this fall at the Lake Placid Flaming Leaves competition in upstate New York as both athletes won their respective events and earned their right to represent the United States in the inaugural youth games. Rhoads and Kissell will compete in their individual events in Austria and team with jumper Emilee Anderson in the team-jump event.

"Had they not gone their separate directions in the sport, they would have been competing against each other for that one coveted spot," Lisa Kissell said.

This fall Rhoads moved to Lake Placid, N.Y., and enrolled in Northwood boarding school. He said his father, an engineer, recently moved the rest of the family to Saudi Arabia for a job and he has been able to visit Bahrain and Dubai in recent months.

Christine Rhoads said her son will be moving back to Park City next summer to complete high school with his friends at Park City High School and go back to working with and competing against his best friend.

"It’s always been the main sport," Will Rhoads said in a phone interview during a family vacation near Madrid, Spain, Tuesday. "It’s my whole life and I’ve been pretty committed as far as that goes."

"It’s kind of cliché, but it’s kind of like a dream come true," he added. "It’s an honor to go represent the United States, but to be able to do it with one my best friends is great."

Asked what he misses most about Park City, Will Rhoads paused and laughed.

"Just all my friends," he said. "Being on the East Coast and skiing, it’s just not the same. It’s icy and crowded."