Airman cheers brother onto Olympic gold

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
Up on a cold, wet mountain top in Sochi, Russia, with rain pouring down, one Airman and her family stood among a sea of spectators as they cheered on their loved one, an American freestyle skier, as he dropped into the slushy halfpipe.

The family had been on the mountain since 5 p.m. when qualifying runs started. They had improvised black trash bags into ponchos to protect themselves from the rain and on top of that wore red, white and blue vests, resembling an American flag. By the time the final event started at around 9 p.m., the group was cold and wet but still smiling.

On that night, U.S. Air Force Capt. Christy Wise watched as her brother David Wise became the first skier in history to win an Olympic gold medal in men's freestyle halfpipe skiing Feb. 18 in Sochi, Russia.

When the event ended around midnight Christy Wise, her twin sister Jessica, David's wife Alexandra Wise and his parents rushed to congratulate him. For the next two hours the family spoke to media and celebrated his medal.

As the celebration continued into the next morning, everyone was present, all except for Christy Wise, who was up at 6 a.m. on her way to Arkansas to train on the new HC-130J Combat King II.

"Well the Olympics was just an amazing experience," said Christy Wise. "It was so cool to be there with my family. It was pretty stressful, too, trying to get us all at the right place, and we got lost on the train. Then trying to meet with all the media and work with David's agent. There was just a lot going on at once, and I was only really there for a day and a half before I had to come back. So it was all just a whirlwind. But it was awesome to be there with my family and experience it with them. And just seeing him live was awesome."

Although Christy Wise had to leave early and missed much of the celebration, David Wise said he was glad his family was there for the event.

"The Olympics are unique because they tie in national pride along with competition," he said. "For one contest I get to go out and represent my country as well as myself. I also get to go out and represent everyone that believed in me along the way. My family members were the first group of people to believe in me, so having them there at the bottom cheering me on was amazing."

Just making it to Sochi for a day and a half to see her brother compete took a little luck for Christy Wise. She was originally scheduled to be a part of a training exercise in Nevada during her brother's event, but ended up being scheduled for training on the Combat King II instead. As it worked out, she didn't have to report to Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., for training until Feb. 19, a day after her brother's scheduled event.

Then there was even talk about postponing the halfpipe event due to bad weather. In another stroke of luck, the event went on despite the poor conditions, and Christy got to see her brother perform his signature trick, the right-side double cork 360.

However, Christy Wise hasn't usually been lucky enough to see her brother compete, something she has had difficulty with since attending the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. As a cadet, competitive ski racer in college and a pilot, she found her races, life at the academy, pilot training and later a deployment made it difficult for her to find time to see her brother.

"One of the hard things when I was in college in Colorado at the Air Force Academy, was that my brother was competing in events all around Colorado as well," said Christy Wise. "But the thing that sucked was that I didn't actually get to see him because every weekend when I was in college we had ski races. So I would go to our ski races, and he would have an event in the halfpipe or something. So then I would just go with my ski team after it was over and meet him for dinner. For a long time, six or seven years, I was watching him compete always on the internet or hearing about the results, but I didn't really get to see him perform live."

Although they were both competitive skiers growing up, Christy Wise pursued a different route than her brother who stuck with skiing. She said that in high school she had the realization that ski racing was a tough field, and she would be good enough to compete at the collegiate level but wouldn't make it further than that.

David, Christy, and their sister Jessica Wise, grew up in Reno, Nev., with parents who enjoyed skiing. The three started skiing at a young age, and with twins Christy and Jessica Wise being three years older than their brother, David Wise was always trying to keep up with his older sisters.

"Looking back, I am always grateful that I grew up in a skiing family," said David Wise. "At the time I didn't realize how amazing it was, but skiing was just something we would do together. .... I remember always being cold and snowy because I was trying jumps. And I remember always chasing my sisters on the race course because they were always faster than me. I think growing up with athletic sisters that were three and a half years older than me really contributed to my athletic career.

"My sisters were always better than me at sports growing up, so I always had something to chase," he added. "Whether it was on the soccer and baseball field, or on the slopes, I always had my sisters there to improve my skills. My sisters also taught me not to be lazy. Not only were they good athletes, they were good students and good people too. If it weren't for my sisters, I probably would have put all of my focus into skiing, and let my grades and studies falter, but they convinced me to put as much effort into the other aspects of my life as I did into skiing. I am forever grateful."

Another thing Christy Wise said may have contributed to her brother's career as a professional skier was their love of adventurous and adrenaline-fueled activities from a young age.

"Well, my brother and I have always kind of been daredevils," said Christy Wise. "We were always doing crazy things. We watched Mary Poppins, and then we were jumping out of trees with umbrellas trying to fly, bouncing on the trampoline. That was just when we were little, and now, he's far surpassed me. He's much more of a daredevil than me, but I still try to keep up with him, you know, cliff jumping or whatever when we're at home. So I think that definitely contributed to him going on to be a really good freestyle skier because he's launching 20 feet out of the halfpipe every day."

Although Christy Wise took a different path than her brother, she said growing up skiing with her family and competing in ski races has also helped her later in life.

"Growing up ski racing was always super fun and a great experience, but it was also tough getting up at 5 a.m. every weekend," she said. "Plus always pushing yourself in the gym. All of that was not easy. So I think it kind of taught me discipline, and it taught me endurance and perseverance, which I've had to use a lot in the Air Force. ... I think what I've learned from skiing, hard work and discipline, has really helped me in the Air Force."

Now, the two live two very different lives, but they both take time to see how each other lives. Christy Wise said they try to arrange a ski trip together once a year, and this year she watched him compete in the X-Games in Aspen, Colo. David Wise also has visited his sister to see how she lives, visiting her at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., twice.

"I often joke with people that I am the slacker child of the Wise family," said David Wise. "One of my sisters is a rescue pilot, and the other is studying to be a doctor. They certainly set a high bar, but I could not be more proud of them. We have each chosen different paths, and yet each of us has excelled in our field. I have always enjoyed going to visit my sister at her various bases. Something about the pilot life appeals to me. I honor the sacrifice that she and her fellows have made and continue to make for our country, and I am proud to be able to call a rescue pilot my sister."

Despite their busy schedules and different lives, the two still find time to enjoy adrenaline-fueled activities together like when they were younger. After the excitement of Sochi wears down and skiing season ends for David Wise, Christy Wise said she's looking forward to going with him to use a sky diving certificate she gave him last year for his birthday.