Olympic Dream Come True Story: Team Puerto Rico Skier survived rare immune disorder with a bone marrow transplant from his older brother, whose footsteps he's following in to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics, all while balancing straight A's with an eye on aerospace engineering.
William Flaherty will represent Team Puerto Rico during the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He survived a rare immune disorder with a bone marrow transplant from his older brother, whose footsteps he’s following in to compete, all while balancing straight A’s with an eye on aerospace engineering.
OJAI, Calif., Feb. 2, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- When skier William Flaherty represents Team Puerto Rico in the giant slalom on Feb. 13, and the slalom on Feb. 16, during the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, it's not going to be your typical Olympic story.
While it is unusual to think of a tropical island being represented at the Winter Olympics, the lack of snow in Puerto Rico isn't what makes William's story unique.
When William was just three-and-a-half years old, he was diagnosed with the rare disease Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), an aggressive and life-threatening syndrome of excessive immune activation. In William's case, it was attacking his liver and bone marrow. Doctors gave him a 10 percent chance to live.
There were many years of surgeries and procedures for William until 2008. That was when his older brother, Charles, donated bone marrow, helping William begin his recovery. Fifteen years later, William has had to fight harder than most for good health. He's battled scoliosis, celiac disease, benign tumors, and holes in his bones. He will forever be missing a third of his immune system's effectiveness. Common viruses that cause sniffles and coughs in people with normal immune systems usually require medical attention for William. He struggled with chronic fatigue and was osteopenic (loss of bone density) in the years after his transplant. He was also in total isolation during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Flaherty family moved to Puerto Rico when William was just six years old because his dad was transferred for work. Even though ski slopes aren't found on the island, he continued to find ways to ski. William says the g-forces associated with skiing helped him in his recovery from the bone marrow transplant, strengthening his bones.
Skiing became a way of life for the Flaherty family. They began dedicating full-time training in 2013 for William when he was just 10 years old and his brother Charles was 13. William is currently a senior and a straight-A student at Laurel Springs School, a private online school that allows William to concentrate on the slopes while balancing his school work in a flexible schedule. William's plans are to graduate from Laurel Springs, have a gap year to recover from a planned surgery in August, and then attend college, majoring in aerospace engineering.
"Laurel Springs provides us the flexibility to travel back and forth between Colorado and Puerto Rico," William explains. "During the winters for about five to six months every year, we go to Colorado so I can train."
While William is creating a path to success on the slopes and the classroom, he is following a successful path created by his brother Charles, who was the lone winter Olympian for Puerto Rico in 2018, competing in the downhill events.
"During the time Charles was preparing for the 2018 Olympics, I was just training for the fun of it," William says. "And then when he went to the Olympics, I was like 'oh yeah, that looks really cool. I want to do that.'"
Four years later, it's William's turn to make the Flaherty family, Laurel Springs School and Puerto Rico proud.
About Laurel Springs School
Laurel Springs School has offered accredited, private, online K-12 and postgraduate academic programs since its establishment in 1991. Laurel Springs values and encourages student individuality and recognizes the need to aid them in aligning their passions and pursuits with their academic aspirations. By providing expert faculty to teach more than 200 college prep courses paired with a student-driven personalization for academic design and vibrant student life of over 30 clubs and activities, Laurel Springs fosters inquiry, growth, mastery, purpose, and independence within each student. On average, students attending Laurel Springs earn higher than the national average scores on the SAT and ACT, which has led to acceptance to the top colleges and universities. Of the more than 4,500 graduates from over 100 countries, Laurel Springs alumni can be found leading today's business, education, athletics, and entertainment industries. Learn more at www.laurelsprings.com