The adventurous spirit of her late father inspires Utah skier Madison Olsen’s Olympic drive


Editor’s note: Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson is in Pyeongchang, South Korea, covering the 2018 Winter Games. This is the 10th in a series of articles profiling Utahns competing in the Olympics.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — At the time, Madison Olsen assumed they were the kind of moments that might quickly fade into the periphery of a well-lived life.

But when cancer abruptly stole her father, those moments — sitting together on a beach in Mexico or putting together puzzles in Houston — became among the most significant experiences of her young life.

Those everyday experiences, easily overlooked, became the tender mercies granted to the 22-year-old aerial skier before she had to learn to live life without her father.

“It was pretty brutal,” she said of losing her dad, Thomas Olsen, in August 2016. “I struggled a lot with it.”

Thomas Olsen was diagnosed with melanoma just before she suffered a series of injuries and surgeries that sidelined her for most of two seasons, from 2014-16.

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The challenge of trying to reclaim her career after injury turned out to offer her the ability to spend time with her dad that traveling the world as a World Cup athlete wouldn’t have allowed.

“I broke my foot in the summer of 2014, and so I got to spend a lot of down time with him, which I was really grateful for,” said Olsen, who will compete in her first Olympic Games Thursday night, when aerial skiers try to qualify for Friday’s final. “That injury took quite a while to recover from. … The summer of 2016, I had to get another surgery, about two weeks before his passing.”

Among the most cherished memories are a winter vacation in Mexico when they went kite surfing, a Father’s Day bike ride, and staying with her dad and, as Olsen prefers to call her, bonus mom, Lisa Olsen.

“That whole experience was really bonding for our entire family,” Lisa said of their time in Houston when her husband sought treatment and Madison was recovering from surgery. “I can’t even picture what it would have been like for her not to have that. His passing happened so quickly. We didn’t have that warning of one to two years, so we had to soak up the moments more. Small things like sitting on the porch, doing a puzzle, just everyday things that mean more in the moment.”

Madison said that even though her dad was fighting melanoma for several years, she felt she’d have more time.

“We never really saw it coming until the week before,” she said. “Up until about that last day, he was managing to make jokes.”

When asked to describe her dad, she doesn’t hesitate and she can’t hold back a burst of laughter.

“He was amazing to say the least,” she said. “He was one of the strongest people I know. He was always super involved.”

He’d advise her to “get mean” and have the “eye of the tiger,” she said, laughing. “That was our issue. I would always say, ‘Dad, …read more

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