BUFFALO, N.Y. — The 2022 Winter Olympics are exactly one year away, but with COVID-19 hanging over every aspect of life, athletes like U.S. and World Cup champion freestyle aerial skier Chris Lillis know in the back of their mind, things can change in an instant. "We haven't heard really any talk about the Winter Olympics being postponed or canceled and which is awesome because that would that would definitely be hard to hear. I just feel for the summer athletes, I can't imagine what they're going through right now."
The threat of COVID-19 is just another added distraction to a time that is already packed with stress. That is something Chris's brother Jon knows very well. "For any athlete the qualification for the games, coronavirus or no coronavirus, is probably the most stressful time of anyone's life." Jon was a member of the U.S. team three years ago in PyeongChang. It was a huge honor, but it came during the darkest period of his life. Four months before the games, his youngest brother Michael died suddenly in his sleep. "I was 20 pounds underweight, not sleeping and not happy with life."
Jon wore a pendant containing some of Mike's ashes in the opening ceremonies, but with the pain still so raw, he admittedly was not on top of his game. He failed to medal. Now that he has retired, he hopes his experience can help his brother to the medal podium in Beijing. He'll be there to see it, along with his entire family. Chris will be carrying a similar pendant in his pocket, while he and his family will carry Michael in their hearts.
Bernie Lillis reflects on the bitter sweetness of the accomplishments of his sons mixed with the loss of his youngest. "There isn't a competition that goes by that he isn't a part of in our thoughts, and not only ours but also Jon's and Chris's." Chris added "I don't think a day goes by when I'm not training but especially while I am jumping or times I'm going through something tough he's not very far from my mind."
While he hopes to draw on Michael's spirit for inspiration, this trip back to the games is not just for the experience. It is all business for Chris, and all of team Lillis. Mom, Jamie says it always has been. "When Chris or Jon or Michael was competing at any level we were all in and we still are all in."
As for the uncertainty of coronavirus, Chris says "it really just got to take the mindset of it's happening 100%, it's going to happen and then you know if something happens, if they are postponed or canceled, I mean, you just kind of deal with that as it comes, but that's kind of an approaching the whole season."