Taylor Fletcher returns to jumping in Colorado Fourth of July celebration | ParkRecord.com

Taylor Fletcher returns to jumping in Colorado Fourth of July celebration

Leah Vann
Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Three-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher was more excited about the crowd than his win in the Fourth of July Nordic combined roller ski competition in Steamboat Springs.

Taylor gestured to the people sitting at the bottom of Howelsen Hill, roaring with cheers as ski jumpers soared above them at Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Jumpin' & Jammin' competition.

"We had out here during the ski jumping elimination portion close to 1,000 people," Taylor said. "It shows that people are actually starting to tune into our sport and starting to like the atmosphere."

It's the little things: the crowd loving the sport he's passionate about, his father feeling well enough to sit with family for the traditional event, the ability to work on his jump, but also enjoying it from the ground, watching younger athletes take the reigns.

It reminds him of a life outside of competition, and before his 35th-place finish in Pyeongchang, he didn't have that.

Being a three-time Olympian takes more than a decade of laser-focused training, which can take a psychological toll. After this season, Taylor asked himself the same question his brother, Bryan Fletcher, did.

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Is he still willing to do everything he can to be the best?

For Bryan, the answer was an instant "no," but Taylor would hang up the skis for three months to make his decision.

He'd both enjoy and stress over normal facets of life as a 28-year-old, like buying a house with his parents or taking classes in business marketing at the University of Utah. He spent more time with his girlfriend and family, especially his father, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

"Being dedicated to the sport as long as he's been doesn't give an athlete an opportunity to achieve those goals," Bryan said. "He got to play some catch up in things outside of that life."

It wasn't all fun, though, just a new form of hard work and self-reflection. Taylor met with a sports psychologist to help him compartmentalize the challenge of needing the finances to compete with the weight of the emotions that came from his personal life.

The decision to take a break doesn't come easy to a tunnel-vision athlete, and sometimes, it's forced. Billy Demong, 2010 Olympic gold medalist and USA Nordic executive director, took his break in 2003 after two concussions.

"I took a year off, went back to school, worked on building in Steamboat, and I can really credit that year off with a lot of my success," Demong said. "I really was tied to the results sheet, and after getting some life perspective, I came back with a refreshed attitude. Then, I was able to keep skiing for another decade."

Demong met with Taylor after a season recap with coach Martin Bayer. He felt that a break was the best way for Taylor to sustain his career — if that was what he wanted.

Taylor would reach that conclusion with little doubt.

"I'm one of the most competitive people you're ever going to meet, and I still want to race, still want to jump, still want to fight for it."