Jon Lillis plans to compete with surviving brother at his side
February 1, 2019
Jon Lillis probably isn't ready for the FIS World Championships, but he's competing anyway.
If it weren't for his 2017 World Championship title, the Park City-based aerialist would probably have taken the year off as he grieved and rested.
In October, his 17-year old brother, Mikey, who also competed in aerials, died in his sleep.
Lillis pushed through, mourning his brother as he competed on the World Cup circuit, then the Olympics last February, where he competed in front of the world in his brother's jumpsuit.
For many athletes, going from an Olympic year to a World Championships the next season is difficult, never mind after losing a loved one.
"The time away makes you hungry a little bit," Lillis said of the gap between competitions. "Where (going straight to the World Championships,) it's like trying to eat dinner right after you ate lunch."
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He also wants to compete in the next Olympics, in Beijing in 2022, with his surviving younger brother Chris – something he says Mikey would have wanted for them – which means he is locked in for another four years of hard training, and will have gone 16 years without taking a winter off.
But the upcoming World Championships in Park City, where he has a designated spot as the 2017 champion, is just too good to pass up.
"Having the title of World Champion and the World Championships being at Deer Valley, I couldn't allow myself to take that year off," he said.
Even if he holds the title, the 24-year-old Rochester, New York, native considers this season as a comeback year after last season, when he said he had trouble focusing on competition. Though he performed well and went to Pyeongchang, he said the sport was no longer enjoyable.
In an effort to clear his head, he went on a road trip over the summer, touring around the U.S. in an RV with his girlfriend – down to Texas, Louisiana and through Florida, where he visited his grandparents in Naples.
"That was probably the highlight of traveling and my offseason," he said. "That stuff has become a lot more important to me in the last year and a half."
When he's not soaring 45 feet over a jump and throwing quad-twisting triple flips, he likes to take it easy. He's not outdoorsy at all – he doesn't like climbing, mountain biking, hiking or running.
"I like to camp," he said. "But the exercise part about being outdoorsy is something I don't like. Being a professional athlete, you exercise all day in your daily life. So when I leave exercise, I like to relax."
Cards are his biggest hobby, his favorites being baccarat and poker, which he said he briefly made a living off of. He also likes to watch the Buffalo Bills and works as a private chef.
His biggest goal for this season is to compete alongside Chris, ideally in the team aerials competition.
Chris missed most of last season after sustaining an injury while competing in China, but Jon is certain the two will both compete for Team USA at the World Championships.
"It's his time," Jon said. "I don't think there's a person in the world or a person on the start list at the Olympics who would have told you that they didn't think Chris belonged to be there."
When the two talk about their competitions on social media, they use the hashtag #JumpingforMikey.
They also helped raise money for a new aerials jump at Bristol Mountain, in South Bristol, New York, which was named after Mikey.
"I don't think jumping will ever go back to being the same for Chris or myself after losing our other brother," Jon said. "But … that's fueling my brother and myself. Now we're not doing it for ourselves as much, and we're doing it for our little brother, too."
On Feb. 6 and 7, Jon will suit up again, regardless of whether it's too soon after the Olympics and his brother's death or not, and compete for the title.
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