You were always adventurous. Always fearless.
I remember when you were about 2½ and you disappeared one day. I panicked. It was springtime — there wasn’t any snow. Your dad was fixing something outside on the second-floor deck railing and had left the ladder up there. You were pretty little and you had the wildest, curliest blond hair.
And you disappeared. We couldn’t find you. Your brother and your dad were looking for you. I was outside yelling for you, panicked completely. I ran back in the house and ran upstairs, and I saw your tiny face through the window, out on that ladder. You had climbed all the way up and you were standing on the top rung with your rosy cheeks and your big smile, absolutely oblivious to the danger.
I was terrified. It would have been a pretty big fall. I almost fainted.
You were beaming. Absolutely beaming.
You were always a daredevil.
You loved tobogganing. You loved going fast. You like it when the plane is bumpy. Things that terrify me, you like.
That’s why all that you’ve accomplished isn’t surprising to me at all.
You were in the right place at the right time.
Your two older brothers were incredible skiers, but the terrain park hadn’t been built in Telluride when they were younger. You and your friends were the first kids in town who took to that park. You were very competitive and not very fearful.
You and your friends — you skied in a pack. There were no coaches. You taught each other. Especially you and Hoot, your best friend.
By the time you were 14, you and your pack were already getting pretty well-known. Then you did that photo shoot. You were all riding on the snowcat, fooling around, hanging off it, seeing who could ride in the sketchiest spot.
You loved tobogganing. You loved going fast. You like it when the plane is bumpy. Things that terrify me, you like. That’s why all that you’ve accomplished isn’t surprising to me at all.
And Hoot fell off and went under the snowcat’s tracks.
It was a devastating accident—a horrible thing for a young boy to experience.
To make matters worse, you were also carrying this secret inside you, one that made you feel so ashamed that you didn’t believe you mattered anymore. It breaks my heart to know that now. The secret was eating you from the inside and causing so much pain that you wished it had been you instead of Hoot who died on the mountain.
I would love to take more credit, but you did a lot of this yourself. You really did manifest your career remarkably.
Hoot was a pivotal point in your life, I believe. After that you began to take your career a lot more seriously.
Instead of letting that experience have a negative effect on your life, you turned it around and made something positive out of it. You told your father and me that you wanted to really focus and compete at the highest level.
That was your dream, yours and Hoot’s.
But you also became more introverted and only hung out with your close friends. You always had a lot of friends and you were always close with them. You started making little movies and edits, ski stuff. And then a French ski company saw one of your videos and wanted to sponsor you, and they wanted you to go to France. You were very young, 16. I felt you were leaving me too soon. But I knew it was your passion, and you’d made it happen for yourself.
You reached the top, of course. And you took Hoot with you, spread some of his ashes at the start of a competition run in Aspen — just so he could be part of it all.
I thought you were happy and successful and on your way.
I didn’t know that you secretly felt so insecure and ashamed.
Now, I think those insecurities were what fueled you. Keeping this secret made you feel ashamed, made you feel like you didn’t matter — and that made you want to better than everybody. You wanted to better your brothers, wanted to triumph more. When you were young, it wasn’t enough for your coach to say you’d done a trick well—you insisted that he say you had done it better than your brothers. You made the coach write that down in a note. You made us pin the note to the refrigerator.
You were so competitive. You hated to lose. You beat yourself up when you didn’t win. You were your own harshest critic.
You were very sensitive and very caring, too. You were always concerned if anyone’s feelings were hurt. When your father and I divorced, you were always there for me. When I was crying, you would comfort me. You had a quality the other boys didn’t have.
That’s why I think I pretty much knew.
But you were very tough and determined and fearless and brave.
It’s heartbreaking to know now how much you were hurting all that time.
I had no idea that the secret you held could make you think those dark thoughts, that you would think about driving off of a bridge. Or that you wanted to kill yourself because you thought people would hate you if they knew the real you. It makes me sad that hate can work on a person that way. I feel guilty that I didn’t try to ask you earlier. I should have talked to you.
Then you got hurt.
It was 2015, the year after your big breakout performance, the silver medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. It was toward the end of the next season, just after you’d made that amazing halfpipe run in Park City. Nothing you do surprises me, but that was a jaw-dropping moment. You threw a double-cork 1260 in a run that people say might have been one of the best ever. When I saw it, I was, like, Oh my god. I’d never seen you go that big, that high.
But a few weeks later you came crashing down. A few weeks later, at the World Cup in France, you broke your leg and tore up your knee. You were recovering in Denver and I had come to nurse you and take you to therapy. You asked me if you could talk to me about something. You were lying with your head in my lap and said, “Mum, you know I’m gay.”
I said, “Yeah, well I think I did know that.”
You cried and hugged me and we talked about the world and why people would say that it was wrong? I remember I told you then what I believe now—that any good person with a good heart wouldn’t care what your sexual preference is, as long as you’re not hurting anybody. Good people will accept you for who you are.
I knew you would go public. I think you needed to get it off your chest. But that was one of the first times I had ever seen you afraid of anything. I realize now you’d felt fear before, but I hadn’t seen it. I had only ever seen the fearless kid on top of the ladder.
You had never been afraid to compete with other kids, had never been afraid to throw elbows on the hockey rink or race down a mountain at full speed. And you had never been afraid to huck yourself off of huge jumps or fly upside down. Nothing ever seemed to scare you.
But you were afraid of hate.
You were frightened you might lose sponsors who didn’t want a gay athlete representing them. You were afraid that maybe you’d lose fans, that people would never throw a parade for you and stand on the street and cheer, like they had done in Telluride when you came home from Sochi. You were afraid that if you told the world, people would hate you because of who you are.
You did it anyway.
So tough. So fearless.
You did the interview with the national magazine and then your secret wasn’t secret. You told the world who you were, and you saw the amazing reaction and support and love from your fans.
Then there was nothing to hold you back.
That was when you really became yourself.
Now I see you as a more complete man. You have an edge because you’re passionate about what you’re doing, and there’s no weight holding you down anymore.
You posed on the cover of a magazine with your boyfriend. You took off all your clothes. I thought that was fantastic. You were letting the world see every bit of who you are.
I see that you have more confidence, more inner strength, even though there’s more pressure now. Even though you’re in the spotlight. The world is watching you. It’s a tough position to be in. You’ve got an audience now, so you have to really think about what you say and do.
But you do that. You take it so seriously, and that makes me proud.
I’m so proud that you made all of this happen. I’m proud of you for accomplishing what you have in your sport. I feel so incredibly, incredibly proud of the fact that you have shown such leadership. Your work with the LGBTQ community is fantastic. You’ve given so much of yourself to them.
You’ve also given me so many memories. Not just the podiums or the big jumps or the magazine stories. I love remembering the endless hours the two of us have spent driving together. I have so many happy memories of you singing to me in the car—Mumford & Sons, or whatever hit song was on the radio, just singing as loud as you could.
I have such great memories of your incredible sweetness, of how when you were a little boy it would take us twice as long as everyone else to walk down the street because you had to stop and pet every dog we saw. You brought me Mamuchka, the dog you rescued from Sochi, my best friend, really. I feel lucky to have her in my life.
You’ve given me so much. I want to thank you for always being there for me. For being sensitive and kind. For being a wonderful son. You’ve given me more than I think I could ever have given you.
I always told you to follow your heart with passion. You did it. You still do. I love you for that.
Thank you, Gus, for being you — and for letting all of us see all of you.