'He sets a goal in front of him, and he goes for it.'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Hunter Hess is one of the top freestyle skiers in the country, and despite missing out on this year's Olympics, he continues to defy the odds.
Before the 23-year-old began tearing through the national ranks, he was here in Bend, at Mt. Bachelor.
“Bend is a good place, because it allows you to ski the way you want to and make skiing a priority for you,” Hess told us recently.
Hess joked that skiing wasn’t always a priority.
“I actually hated skiing for quite a while. It was not my sport of choice, I really liked soccer,” Hess said.
After Hess realized his natural ability on the slopes, his attitude changed and he competed in the USASA Enter the Dragon competition at Mt. Bachelor and eventually joined the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation (MBSEF).
While Hess was exceeding on the mountain, he had to put in extra effort in the classroom, at Summit High School.
Barbara Murphy is a learning specialist at Summit, and has known Hess since he was a freshman.
“I just helped facilitate that balance between navigating classes online and being at school and being on the road,” Murphy said.
Cory Jacquot is an educational assistant at Summit and helped support Hess’s skiing career while he was a student.
“He knew what he wanted to do, and he was going for it, and we just helped him stay on track,” Jacquot said.
Hess attributes a lot of his success to their help.
“And if I didn’t have them, I don’t know where I’d be. I probably would not have graduated high school,” Hess said with a laugh. “And my skiing would be way worse.”
Hess did graduate high school, actually doing so a semester early.
Since then, he’s been competing in ski competitions all over the world, making the podium in a few and even producing and starring in two of his own ski movies, called MAGMA and MAGMA II.
Just a few months before the Olympic qualifiers, Hunter crashed while training, tearing his MCL.
Hunter attacked his rehab, doing everything he could to get skiing again.
But his body had other plans.
“It was actually the day of the four-week period that we finished -- and I had appendicitis,: Hess recalled. “So I had to go in and get surgery on that.”
That kept him off the slopes even longer, and he missed the first qualifier.
But like he always does, Hess battled back.
Jacquot said, “He’s determined, and he’s dedicated to what he wants to do. He sets a goal in front of him, and he goes for it.”
Hess was able to squeeze in just two days of skiing before the next qualifier, after nearly nine weeks away from the sport.
He described what it was like to finally be healthy again.
“Went down to the bottom, and I was just tearing up a bit, you know,” Hess said. “All that time of sitting there, waiting for things to start to be better so you can work on them to get better.”
After all he'd been through, he was just grateful to be back.
“Regardless of what even happens tomorrow, I’m able to get out there and ski,” Hess said.
Unfortunately, Hess’s heroic return wasn’t enough, and he failed to qualify as a top-six halfpipe skier in the country.
But he’s not shaken. If anything, he’s more thankful for the people by his side -- and more driven.
“So much of their own personal time and effort and energy into me just to be able to chase this dream," Hess said. "I think the biggest thing for me would be to be able to give that back.”
For the people supporting Hess, watching him chase that dream is more than enough.
“I am not surprised that he’s at the level he is right now, and he probably will make it to the Olympics,” Jacquot said.
“Maybe he didn’t get there this time, but he will be there next time,” Murphy said. “And we’ll be there to cheer him on, and we're waiting to see that happen.”