The Kid Bounces Back

A boy's death gives snowboarder Chris Klug a second chance at life and the Olympics.

Given a new lease on life, he was more appreciative of what he had: a lifestyle that allowed him to travel the world, getting paid to do what he loved most. When he thought of the reason, he was humbled by the act of the strangers who had saved him and disturbed by what he was hearing on the organ-donor front.

He arrived at Park City aware that the race would be an Olympic preview. Same hill. Same type of race. Same competitors. His qualifying run was not the best, tying him only for twelfth, but still good enough to get him into the head-to-head competition. By afternoon, he was racing strong, easily blowing past his first challenge, Dieter Krassnig of Austria. He'd done the same in his first matchup with Austrian Alexander Maier, the younger brother of ski great Herman "The Herminator" Maier, beating him by almost a second (a large amount in the racing world).

Chris thought he had the hill figured out. A steep pitch at the beginning, followed by a short transition to the flats, where, with his size and strength, he was difficult to beat. Maier was riding well, but Chris had beaten him regularly throughout the season and figured he would have no problem doing the same now.

Michael Brands
Chris Klug gets encouragement from his girlfriend, Missy, as hospital staffers prep him for his transplant.
Warren Klug
Chris Klug gets encouragement from his girlfriend, Missy, as hospital staffers prep him for his transplant.

They both burst through the starting gates, their turns around the gates nearly synchronized, picking up speed on the steep. They were almost to the flats when Chris made a small mistake and felt his edge slip on him, carrying him wide of the next gate. Too wide -- and Maier, who would go on to win the competition when the other racers fell, eliminated him.

Chris was disappointed in his finish; he felt the day had been his to win. Still, looking back up the hill as Missy and his family gathered around in their protective cocoon, he smiled. Sometimes it was good to be knocked down a bit to make him remember that nothing in life was ever guaranteed -- not trips to the podium, not the Olympics, not life itself. He'd bounce back from this setback, as he always had, and he promised himself that he'd return in a year to get his medal, hopefully with "The Star-Spangled Banner" playing in the background.

He was alive -- that was what really mattered -- looking ahead to all the possibilities a starting gate represented.

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