Someone probably should have told Bryan Fletcher that his definition of what it means to be a “normal kid” was a little off.
For most children, being “normal” means hanging out with friends, playing video games and maybe playing a sport or two on the side.
For Fletcher, “normal” meant being able to keep up with the other kids on his Nordic combined team while battling leukemia until the age of 10.
But, despite a seven-year battle, he said he didn't really see himself as any different. In fact, he said, sometimes it seemed like the other kids were trying to keep up with him, not the other way around.
“I actually found it pretty easy,” he said. “Obviously I would miss a couple days, but I was just so motivated to be a normal kid. While I was going through the cancer stuff, it was extremely saddening for me not to be able to ski every day and do the things the normal kids were doing when I was in the hospital doing chemotherapy and stuff like that.”
Getting back on the hill and the trails was what kept Fletcher going during the tough times he experienced growing up in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
“I would go down to Denver every other week for chemotherapy and I would do exactly what the doctors asked and do it as quickly and efficiently as possible so I could get back to the slopes faster,” he said. “That was my main goal. As soon as I got back home and back with the other kids, and I was ecstatic to be there, it was no problem to keep pace because I was so excited just to be with them and getting to do the sport I loved.”
The day he found out the cancer was gone was one of the best days of Fletcher's life. From then on, he said, he was devoted to Nordic combined training.
“It was a huge day,” he said. “I think I put my head down and charged forward and just went full blast into skiing and never looked back.”
After battling for his life, he said the 30 hours of endurance training per week the U.S. Nordic combined team puts in during the summers didn't seem quite so difficult.
“I learned so much about myself and what I was capable of,” he said. “It was crazy. It was definitely a relief just to be able to ski every day.”
Now he takes pleasure in the grueling workouts. This past summer, Fletcher and several members of the Nordic combined team went to France for a cycling camp.
“We had a great Tour de France camp this summer where we went over and basically did a week of training riding through the Alps and following some routes of the Tour,” he said. “We do this camp every year, but this year was unbelievable. We had some spectacular weather and a great group of people and awesome riding. I think that week I rode at least five hours a day – I just couldn't put the bike down.”
It's events like the bike camp that make the U.S. Nordic team so close, Fletcher said.
“I couldn't ask for a better team to train with,” he said. “We believe we can work together as a team to achieve individual successes. In Nordic combined, there are team events, but it is an individual sport for the most part.”
But, after winning the silver medal in the 4Ã—5-kilometer relay at the 2010 Vancouver Games, while Fletcher was sidelined with an ankle injury, the U.S. team figures to be a force in Sochi.
And if both Fletcher brothers make the team, it will be an even better moment for them.
“It would be awesome,” Bryan Fletcher said of potentially walking into the Opening Ceremonies with his brother Taylor. “We couldn't ask for anything better. Obviously, we've set our sights on the podium together. We really think we have a good team this year and could be medal contenders. But just to have a brother on the team would be amazing.”
That would prove that all the long hours training together, Taylor taking the lead in cross-country and Bryan sharing jumping tips with his younger sibling, were worth it.
“He's great,” Bryan said. “We push each other. Taylor's extremely talented on the cross-country side, so it works out as a perfect partnership. We balance each other out and push each other. Plus, it's nice to have a sibling in the mix to watch out for each other. We have each other's backs, and, I mean, there's not a better training partner you could ask for.”
After missing out on the 2010 Games, Bryan Fletcher is that much more determined to join Taylor on the Sochi team.
“It was bittersweet having such a loss on my side but having a success on his side,” he said. “I had to cheer for him, and I was happy for him, but also bummed out that it wasn't me. It was a bummer, but in hindsight, it really challenged me to focus my energy on training and refocus on what I had been doing up to that point. It challenged me to look deeper and figure out what I really wanted out of this sport.”