Kragthorpe: Out of the dark, into the Bright
Vancouver, British Columbia
Before she stood in the spotlight Friday night, receiving her Olympic gold medal in front of thousands of fans during a victory ceremony in a vibrant stadium, Torah Bright spent day after day alone in the dark.
At home in the Salt Lake City house she's sure is haunted, she slowly recovered from a series of concussions. Bright wondered why she kept landing wrong and hitting her head in the dangerous snowboarding halfpipe, and how ready she would be for Olympic competition when everyone else was practicing.
Ultimately, though? No worries.
"For some reason, I just felt that everything was going to be fine," she said after the medal presentation. "I didn't know I was going to win gold, but I was at peace with everything."
When the medal came, matching the color of her fingernails, she kissed it and could not stop smiling during entire Australian national anthem.
She earned this moment. Even after falling during her first run of Thursday's event, the 23-year-old Bright delivered the performance of her life. She beat American stars Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark to take home that gold medal, while hoping it remains undisturbed.
Citing "doors opening" and "footprints," she believes a ghost she named Herbert occupies her home in Sugar House. "He's nice, though," she said.
The victory, the fourth for Australia in Winter Olympics history, compelled the country's prime minister to call her at the venue. Her parents witnessed the achievement after traveling more than 24 hours and hiding in a closet to avoid being discovered when she stopped by the place they're staying.
They had told Torah they could attend her June wedding in Salt Lake City only if they skipped the Olympics. "We were always coming," said her mother, Marion.
Bright came through with a series of big tricks in the air that nobody else could match, fulfilling the mission of her older brother, Ben. He has coached her since giving up his own snowboarding pursuits, several years after they both left home to chase the sport. Ben encourages her to perfect moves being done only by men's snowboarders, including the "switchback 720" she delivered in the final.
"Torah was on 'fi-yah,' " Teter said, playfully imitating an Aussie accent.
Bright does speak Australian. During a late-night news conference after the event, she described her parents' visit as "the cherry on top of the cake." Winning the gold medal enabled her to "tick off" another goal, she said, making a checkmark in the air. Asked how she planned to celebrate, she cited "chilled water" as her drink of choice.
That question was relevant to an Australian media contingent fixated on her religious practices. She's a lifelong Mormon with an Old Testament first name suggested by a Jewish family friend, raised in the LDS Church after her mother researched various belief systems in Australia.
Having grown up in New South Wales, near the Snowy Mountains, Bright initially came to Whistler, B.C., at age 13. Bright's sister, Rowena, skied in the 2002 Olympics and then became a University of Utah skier. Torah joined her soon afterward and has never left. Her fiancee, Jake Welch, a professional snowboarder who appears in films, is a Salt Lake City native.
"I love Salt Lake," she said, describing her life as "pretty perfect."
Bright travels continually, but was grounded for nearly two weeks before coming to Vancouver. In late January, while she practiced for the Winter X Games, a second concussion in three days threatened to keep her out of the Olympics. Under orders to rest her brain, she could not even watch television or use a computer. Her sister and a nephew came from Massachusetts to visit, which helped. Bright's mother, a holistic nurse, also provided advice.
"It's been an odd month for me," Bright said, with the wide smile and slight giggle that accompanies nearly every statement.
Having finished fifth in the 2006 Olympics, while battling a shoulder injury and being subjected to judging that others said was unfair, Bright came back in 2010 with a victory that will be good for business. She designs Roxy's "Bright Edition" snowboard clothing brand and has other endorsement deals, and may transcend her sport now.
"I'm taking every opportunity there is," she said, promising to "enjoy the ride."
That's what snowboarders do.