Imagine being a young kid living in Puerto Rico, taking a family ski vacation two weeks a year to Beaver Creek, equipped with a private ski instructor. These are definitely the times dreams are made of; swap sandcastles for a snowy slope for family fun.
Fast forward not once, but twice for the Flaherty family, who divide their lives between their full-time residence in Puerto Rico and a home in Edwards, Colorado to take those precious memories, dream big and produce two sons who represent their country. of Puerto Rico at the Olympics. This is the story of Charles Flaherty, who paved the way for an appearance in Pyeongchang in 2018 and his younger brother William, who moved to Beijing to represent Puerto Rico in 2022.
It was an extraordinary journey for Charles. William’s journey is fraught with more twists and turns than most of us can even imagine getting over. It all started when Ann Flaherty, while tackling the daily joys and challenges of raising two young sons in a Midwestern suburban home, noticed that the whites of her 5-year-old son William’s eyes had become yellow. At short notice, life took an unexpected turn.
Tests revealed that William suffered from liver failure caused by hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, an extremely rare immunodeficiency disorder in which the immune system does not shut down as it should. The disease can be genetic or acquired, but both are fatal without early and aggressive treatment.
Left unchecked, his immune system, which had begun attacking his liver and bone marrow, could have reached his brain or lungs. The illness William was facing would alter his life and that of his family from that point on.
Older brother Charles stepped forward to donate William’s much-needed bone marrow transplant that saved William’s life. William walked forward, kissing the life cards dealt to him. This article could dwell on the trauma of this life-altering childhood illness, but it won’t, because William doesn’t – and neither does his family.
Fast forward to the winter of 2014-2015, with William in remission, and the Flaherty family finding themselves spending five months living in the Vail Valley and William and Charles joining the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. They had learned all they could from Mike Williams, their longtime Beaver Creek ski instructor (and, ironically, the grandfather of a former SSCV ski racing student) who encouraged them to take on the challenge. challenge of ski racing as the next challenge on snow.
Charles continued to train with a private ski coach after a year in the SSCV youth ski league program to more quickly close the skills gap that exists when someone is tackling the competitive skiing at an older age. At just 10 years old, William has taken full advantage of his experience as a first-year U12 at SSCV, making many new friends and getting stronger and healthier with every session on dry land and every turn in the snow.
“The physical impact the sport had on William’s still healing body was incredible. With bone marrow densities skyrocketing, William’s stamina is returning and his mental toughness is an inspiration to all. family,” Ann said.
The Flaherty family thoroughly enjoyed mountain life, and William and his brother Charles began to dream beyond the two-week ski vacation in Beaver Creek. They dreamed the greatest dream one can dream of in the sport of ski racing: to represent their country, Puerto Rico, at the pinnacle of their sport: the Olympic Games.
Being a resident of Puerto Rico did not mean a guaranteed, easy path to the Games. The FIS points still had to be hunted and the criteria still had to be met. Olympic federations had to be formed. These barriers represent only the tip of the iceberg of what each member of the Flahertys has contributed to the boys who compete in the Olympics. More importantly, years and years of countless hours of training, the prerequisite work necessary for any Olympian, regardless of country of birth, was invested by both Charles and William. Spectator of the last Olympics, cheering on his big brother from behind the scenes, 2022 is William’s turn to be on the big stage.
Those who know William know he is a kind, balanced, calm leader who balances life between two countries, two homes, two groups of friends, and the lingering physical side effects that come from the things his body fought against when he was a child. Corrective surgeries are no stranger to him, nor are ongoing measures to maintain his energy balance and positive mental state.
The family has been through a lot, including the sudden loss of their father a few years ago. But William’s constant smile and trademark, his playful laugh, that he works hard to maintain his straight A average in online school (which he supplements with a winter tutorial in Vail in the winter), breaking down the gates of Golden Peak or working hard in the gymnasium, are the signs of a true winner.
William said: “A lot of what I’ve achieved in life is ‘sticking to it’. I have made great friends here and in Puerto Rico and they have supported me every step of the way and I am very grateful to them.
When asked what the next step would be after the Olympics, William said: “I will be doing a few more races including the junior world championships, finishing my senior year, having another surgery which has been delayed until at the end of the ski season, because it involves removing a bone from my leg and moving it into my jaw, taking a year off and then going to university.
That’s not all.
“My goal is to become an aerospace engineer. I have developed a love for skiing and it will always be a passion for me, but it will be time to hang up my GS suit and my racing skis and join the world of recreational skiers,” said William.
William and his mother have spent the last few weeks sequestered to avoid the risks of contracting COVID-19 ahead of the Olympics.
Regardless of the results in China, William is a gold medalist in every sense of the word.