Maybe you have heard his name in whispers? A passing phrase like "Wiley just sent that cliff!" Perhaps you have seen his name pop up on the screen of a TGR or a Level 1 movie? Either way the name "Wiley" was always memorable even if you couldn't quite place it. A grinder on the come up, yet - still laying low, under the radar, a stealth bomber on two planks.
Wiley eventually made his mark with a closing part in last years Level 1 movie "Refresh" and 2010 looked to be a banger year till a brutal wreck in AK ended his season prematurely. Dreams crushed? Second thoughts? Anxiety about the future? Sure. But you have to remember last year; at Stevens Pass this guy crushed his eye socket and fractured both his heels on a park jump a day before Tanner undid himself. Did he come back stronger? Yup. Can he do it again? No doubt - but there will be some hurdles.
This summer I had the chance to catch up with Wiley and see what is like to walk the fine line between disaster and fun. While most athletes want to put a big red ribbon on the highs and shun talking about the lows of their career he gave a real unabridged view what it's like to have those triumphant moments, the tragic downfalls and what it means to come thru on the other side. This is the first of a three part series that documents his injury, recovery and eventually his first day back on skis.
I. Background / Downfall
- 1. Home – I started skiing at young age dad led me around on his ski pole when I was 4. Both my parents loved to ski so naturally it became a cornerstone of family vacations. I learned at a little spot called Red Lodge. Coming from Billings, Montana there wasn't really a large amount of terrain to try new things so my brother Jeremy and I would just build little jumps around town on hillsides and try new tricks. Eventually the fam would migrate up to Big Sky for the weekends. During the school week I would count the hours till Friday afternoon and the 3 1/2 hour drive up to the hill. Jeremy and I would usually spend one day on the hill and another hiking around this little area called Beehive Basin building kickers and trying to learn new tricks. - - 2. Getting my Start – In 2007 I weaseled on to shooting with the Theory 3 media guys for [photo] play. I tagged along with a buddy Mike Hornbeck and just tried to get done what I could. I really didn't know much about the industry or how things worked. Through that part I was nominated for breakthrough performance at the Powder Awards. http://vimeo.com/11611561 I didn't win but unexpectedly I was on my way. Matt Sterbenz my team manager at 4frnt had a connection with Josh Berman at Level 1 and he convinced him to give me a chance. I 'm sure at the inception Josh was bummed Sterbenz even gave me his number because I called incessantly about any opportunity to film. Little did I know, a few months later would end up getting a random phone call from Berman while I was in Missoula on vacation. My part in Realtime had made an impression and I won the peoples choice award for male performance of the year at IF3. When you are young and on a roll, you figure nothing can stop you.
- - 3. Injury – For a while I really thought I was indestructible. I never really had been hurt before. That all changed May 15th 2009. I had my first serious injury at Steven's Pass. My examination read like a police report from a car accident. Concussion, fractured eye socket, both heels fractured. It was right before the Hangover came out. I remember watching it with one eye because the left side of my skull was so swollen. I looked like I went 9 rounds with Tyson, battled that gigantic cat and had a hangover. I had surgery to insert a titanium plate replacing the left orbital of my skull. The doctors slid it under my eye socket to access behind my eye. It was honeycomb porous so the body tissue could grow through it. So if you meet me and think I'm pretty mellow, it's cool, just remember I have "Terminator" technology below the skin. The fact of the matter is being on crutches and having my face half swollen gave me a lot to time to think. I wanted to be smarter about my skiing and the risks I take. It probably sounds pretty stupid to anyone who knows me and has seen some of the things I do. 2010 went pretty well. I got out with Level 1 and TGR. Explored some new zones, accomplished some new stuff and I headed up to AK to work on my progression. I spent all of that time planning and calculating but the reality is, in AK, anything can happen. A miscalculated turn and a cartwheel wreck cut my season short and left me without an ACL. At first I didn't want to believe it. I was in a bit of a state of denial. I came home – saw a doctor and my worst fears were confirmed. Almost a year to the date I was back on the couch again. FML.
- - - 4. Frustration - I don't do well with down time. I'm a pretty active person - sitting around in pain is the worst. It causes my brain to run circles and for me using my body is a huge release physically and mentally. My mood swings are back and forth like a pendulum. I can't tell if it's the prescription drugs, the lack of sleep, or just the enormous pain that hits like a tidal wave only to disappear back to the sea. This is the most pain I have ever felt in my life. Everyone says I should feel better after 5 days but it's been 7 and nothing has changed. It's a subtle blow to the ego to have my family and friends take care of me when I am grown man and so accustomed to doing things on my own. Simple things like walking downstairs or going to the bathroom seem so difficult. I can't remember the last time I had my mom help me off the couch to use the bathroom? I can see the concern in my parents' faces. I know they want me to follow my dreams but at the same time they are scared shitless every time they see me fucked up. It's times like these I don't feel much like a "ski superstar." The aura is penetrated and I am simply Wiley. Another folder at the doctor's office. It's humbling but it helps me keep my head on straight. Injuries have a way of helping achieve clarity while the temptations of the ski lifestyle – parties, girls, drinking, travel can keep you in the fog. - - This summer may have been a bit of an involuntary time-out but it has also made me realize I am the referee. I hold the whistle and I can call the game as I see fit if only I can work through the pain. Do I want to be back on top of the mountains? Of course, I love that feeling and won't let anything take it away.