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Teen cancer survivor savours last Olympics

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Puerto Rico’s flag bearers Kellie Delka and William Flaherty lead the delegation during the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 4. AFP

Teen cancer survivor savours last Olympics

William Flaherty is only 17 but the Puerto Rican ski racer already knows Wednesday’s slalom race will likely be his last Olympic appearance, as a “saddening” forced retirement from the sport approaches.

Though Flaherty will compete in the world junior ski championships in Canada in March after the Beijing Games, his thoughts will then immediately turn to a career-ending date with the surgeon.

“I have an operation scheduled on my leg where they are quite literally taking out one of the bones from my leg and moulding it into a new jawbone,” Flaherty told AFP.

“Medical complications never stop, but it’s fine. It’s become part of my life at this point.”

A cancer survivor, Flaherty underwent a bone marrow transplant at the age of three, with his brother Charles as the donor.

But health problems resurfaced that resulted in a tumour removal which has left his left lower mandible hollow.

“That unfortunately will probably be the end of my ski racing career,” said Flaherty of the operation to fix it.

“I’ll move on to the next chapter in my life and can’t wait to see what awaits me.

“It is quite saddening to know that I won’t go into the next Olympics,” he added.

Family footsteps

Flaherty completed both of his runs in the giant slalom on Sunday, albeit finishing 40th and more than 32 seconds behind gold medal winner Marco Odermatt of Switzerland.

The Puerto Rican was following in the footsteps of his brother, who finished 73rd at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.

Charles was the first Winter Olympian from the tropical unincorporated territory of the United States in two decades.

The bond between the two siblings, who lost their father after the Pyeongchang Games, is clear.

“Charles has done so much for me... I’ve looked up to him for many years and probably will for many years to come,” Flaherty said.

His brother had saved his life “quite literally” he said, as well as sowed the seeds of his Olympic dream and then helped make it come true.

“It’s a pity he’s not here, but he’s fulfilling his next dream of being a rocket scientist,” he said.

“I couldn’t be happier for him and I’m sure he feels the same for me even though he probably wouldn’t admit it to me!”

There was no room for hindsight or introspection for Flaherty, who comes across as far older than his actual age.

“Obviously, I’ve overcome a lot. I just keep looking forward, ahead, and this is where I ended up,” he said.

“It shows that with determination and if you keep going, no matter what life throws at you, you can achieve your dreams and no one can take that away from you except yourself.

“It means the world to me to be here, especially with everything I’ve done. It’s the climax of eight years of work, so it’s amazing.”

Flaherty said he would leave Beijing bolstered by new friendships.

He said the Olympics show “people can and are capable of uniting under the name of sport and anything else that they’ve got in common”.

“It provides me with hope for the future of the world.”

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