Torin Yater-Wallace beats mystery illness
Two months ago, Ski SuperPipe competitor Torin Yater-Wallace was diagnosed with a life-threatening infection in his liver and gall bladder. This week, he's competing at X Games.
On Nov. 10, 2015, one of the last things Torin Yater-Wallace, 20, remembers is checking himself into the local hospital in Park City with flu-like systems, and doctors quickly put him on a CareFlight to Salt Lake City. Ten days later, he woke up in a hospital bed on the ICU floor at the University of Utah Hospital. Drip lines were running from his liver and gall bladder. His parents had been summoned from Colorado to his bedside, and a team of infectious disease doctors were hovering over him, asking if he had left the country recently.
The four-time X Games SuperPipe medalist had contracted Streptococcus anginosus -- a strain of strep that infected both his gall bladder and caused an abscess on his liver. Fluid from the infection was so intense that it was filling up his lungs, so doctors sedated him and inserted a ventilator into his airway. Then, when his oxygen count continued to drop, they induced medical paralysis so his muscles would stop using oxygen. His entire body was shut down. If Yater-Wallace weren't a 20-year-old pro athlete in the best shape of his life, the infection might have been fatal.
"I had no clue what was going on when I came to," says Yater-Wallace, who adds that doctors never actually determined how he caught the infection, which can sometimes start in the GI tract or from a tooth. "I was terrified. From what I gathered, doctors had made it very clear to my parents and my girlfriend [Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson] that this was a pretty extreme situation. This was my insides, not a broken bone."
Yater-Wallace was released from the hospital right before Thanksgiving, but then he suffered complications from an IV and had to return on December 4. A liter-and-half of fluid was drained from his chest cavity. When he was released again, he was sent home with a mobile IV that pumped antibiotics through his body 24/7.
While his peers and rivals like David Wise prepped for the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Yater-Wallace, who dropped from 152 pounds to 130, was also saddled with drain tubes from his liver and gall bladder, and he emptied them every few hours for 30 days.
So, where does this leave one of the most talented SuperPipe skiers in history? Surprisingly, eager for more X Games hardware. After dropping out of Aspen 2015 due to a concussion sustained in practice and qualifying for but then missing the 2014 final because of injury, the Aspen native is fired up.
"It's been a big frustration," says Torin. "X Games is one of my favorite competitions, and one of the competitions that's given me the name I have in my hometown. It holds a pretty special place in my mind and my heart. My friends and family always come, and I grew up watching it. The thought of missing another X Games has been a pretty big motivator for me getting back in the pipe."
On Jan. 10, 2016, a full two months after he fell ill, Yater-Wallace was cleared to ski again. He's been hitting the gym and SuperPipe almost every day since. While behind schedule compared to some peers, his goal is to have his run from 2015 dialed by the time of X Games. That run -- which includes an alley-oop double flatspin into a down-the-pipe double flatspin -- earned him two big wins in 2015: the Dec. 2014 Dew Tour ahead of David Wise, and the World Skiing Invitational in Whistler. No one will be surprised if he lands on the podium in Aspen; he's simply that talented. But it sure would be one heck of a comeback.