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2 brothers and a cancer link to their chosen sport

February 17, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Among the seven sets of siblings on the American team at the Sochi Olympics, no one likely has a more a poignant reason for following a brother or sister into a sport than Taylor Fletcher.

He watched what Nordic combined — which features ski jumping and cross-country skiing — had done to lift the spirits of his older brother Bryan during his seven-year battle against acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Diagnosed at the age of 3, Bryan Fletcher took up the sport with their mother’s blessing the following year.

“Ski jumping and cross-country were the things he did to have fun and to forget the pain and hardships he was experiencing through chemotherapy,” Taylor Fletcher told The Associated Press. “I saw that he was having a ton of fun with it, what it did for him, and he was also so supportive of me.”

Bryan Fletcher, 27 and four years older than Taylor, agreed that Nordic combined got his mind off the treatments for leukemia, which he eventually beat by the time he was 10. In between, he had a stroke and doctors gave him only had a 15 percent chance of survival.

“For me it was a distraction for what I was going through at the time,” Bryan Fletcher said. “It was very much my sport, my life. I basically would do everything the doctors would ask just so I could get back to skiing faster. I was totally carefree when I was on the slopes and hopefully that attitude carried over all the time to Taylor.”

The Fletcher brothers, cross-country ski specialists, hope to improve in Tuesday’s large hill gold final from their finishes in last week’s normal hill event when Bryan was 26th and Taylor 33rd.

Bryan Fletcher was 41st in ski jumping but ranked 19th in the cross-country portion to move up in the field. Taylor did similar, finishing 46th in jumping before being the 11th-best skier.

It’s a different sport than what Taylor Fletcher first had in mind.

“I originally started as a hockey player — I was the fastest guy on the rink but I couldn’t stop at all, so that didn’t last very long,” he said, smiling. “So as soon as he got me to do Nordic combined, right from there, it’s what I loved. It’s been a very good choice.”

Bryan Fletcher, who will be part of the American team with Taylor when the U.S. defends its Vancouver gold medal on Thursday, says winter sports, in particular, seem to be a good place for family members to bond.

“I think that it’s a camaraderie thing, everyone wants to be out on the slopes together, and in the winter you are always looking for buddies,” he said. “I think the younger sibling always sees the older sibling having so much fun and that’s why they do it.

“And a lot of clubs have several kids doing several sports at a very young age. So you can go in and try a whole wide variety of things. It’s all the same equipment, and it makes it possible for kids to find what they are good at.”

Taylor Fletcher can’t wait until one of them has a podium finish, like the Japanese brothers shared when Akito Watabe won silver in the normal hill at Sochi and was cheered on by younger brother Yoshito.

“Bryan and I hope to be able to do the same thing in this Olympics,” Taylor says. “And hopefully the next.”

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