When Olympic gold-winning snowboarder Shaun White took his terrible fall while training for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, his coach, JJ Thomas, thought it was all over.
“For sure I thought the Olympics were out of the picture,” said Thomas from San Diego, where he now lives. The Olympic medal-winning snowboarder grew up in Golden. “If that was me, I would stop competing.”
Did White share that thought?
“No,” said Thomas. “That’s why he’s the best.”
After years of a friendly rivalry at competitions, Thomas became White’s coach from 2016 through 2018, after White went on to win his third gold medal for the men’s halfpipe event, despite enduring 62 stitches in his face five months earlier.
Competing against White was brutal.
“Because he’s so dang good,” said Thomas. “I lost 98% of the time. On a good day, I could say 90%, but he beats everyone 98% of the time.”
When White went down that day in New Zealand, Thomas was the ideal person to help him through his recovery.
“In my career, I had a bunch of lows, too,” he said. “Big highs, but big crashes. That was an area of expertise for me. I was happy to walk him through that and do the slow build back. It was probably nice to have someone who’d been through the experience.”
Thomas will speak about the experience at the 5th annual TEDxColoradoSprings, a daylong event featuring about a dozen speakers on the theme “Frontiers.” It’s May 12 at the Ent Center for the Arts. Reservations are recommended.
TED (technology, entertainment and design) talks are short lectures, up to 18 minutes, on topics ranging from science and business to health and the environment. TEDx events are independently run and usually focus more on the local community and feature local voices. Out of a dozen TEDxColoradoSprings speakers, about half are local people, including Aaron Johnson, who will talk about the geology of the Pikes Peak region and the legacy of its residents.
“TED talks have always been a source of inspiration and information for me on the impact we can all have on the world around us,” said event organizer Steve Moraco. “I’m a curious person and always learning new things. TED talks are the best way to get an understanding of someone else’s perspective the way you would over a dinner conversation.”
This will be Thomas’ first TED talk. His application went through the same vetting process as every speaker. A volunteer committee watches a video of the lecture and decides whether it’s a story worth sharing.
“My experience with Shaun was such an inspiration to me,” said Thomas, “that I thought other people should hear about it.”