Elite skiers wow us with their athleticism. But the really great ones impress us even more with their character. Sam Jackenthal was one of those. He was only 16. But what he experienced and achieved, and what he taught us, would fill many lifetimes.

Sam grew up riding the rails and boxes at Park City, looking up to heroes like Olympic champion Joss Christensen. His coach at Team Park City United, the veteran Chris “Hatch” Haslock, loves to tell the story of little Sam itching and pleading to get on the big jump. “Please, coach, please.” He finally got his chance and grew to become a national champion by 15, winning combined gold at last spring’s USSA Junior Nationals. Combined is tough. It means you have to be the best in slopestyle, halfpipe and big air. Sam did it all.

It’s been a painful month for his Team Park City United friends and the entire Park City community in the wake of Sam’s training camp crash and death from those injuries. It was even more so for his family bedside at Canberra Regional in the Australian capital. There has been profound sadness. But there is also peace. And there’s the memory of what this lifelong athlete brought to everyone he knew, and the many he did not know but has now touched.

“Sam taught us how to have fun and enjoy life,” said teammate Jack Severson. When Jack was seriously injured a few years ago, Sam was right there to help Jack.

“He brought joy into everything,” said teammate Nikita Rubocki.

Superstar pro skier Torin Yater-Wallace, an Aspen native who now hangs in Park City, talked about the time this little kid saw him working in the garage and had the courage to introduce himself and tell the X Games champion how much he was inspired by him. “Hey, I never thought he would now be the one motivating me,” said Torin, choking back a tear. “All of us freeskiers will continue to shred in his name. I’m dedicating my season to Sam.”

It would be easy to say that sport took Sam away. But that’s not what Sam taught us. Through his character and engagement, Sam taught us how much was to be gained from sport. It taught him how to dream and to achieve goals. It gave him a sense of accomplishment and a life full of adventure. It took him to places he could only imagine. And it taught him how to fly.

“He’s doing what he was meant to do — flying high in the clouds,” said best friend and former roommate Joe Lauer.

As the Flying Ace All Stars, with whom Sam once jumped, took to the sky on Oct. 10 at the Utah Olympic Park, you had a sense Sam was right there with them.

You don’t often hear the word legacy attached to a young teen. But you heard that word a lot Saturday night as over 1,000 friends and family paid tribute. Sam Jackenthal will leave a strong legacy.

Sam, you taught us how to fly. You set an example for athletes — young and old. Whether we knew you or not, we all feel the joy and drive you carried around with you.

Fly, Sam, fly!

Article Tags: Premium Opinion, USSA

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Tom Kelly
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- Tom Kelly is a veteran of nine Olympics and serves as Vice President, Communications for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Each week he takes you Behind the Gold to tell you the inside story of our nation’s top skiers and snowboarders.
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