Winter Sports

For Lillis Family, Olympic experience about more than winning

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (WAVY) - For the Lillis Family, the Olympics are more about the journey than taking home gold.

The journey to PyeongChang has been more difficult than the family ever could have imagined because of the passing of 17-year-old Michael Lillis.

Bernie and Jamie Lillis’ three boys once dreamed of all jumping at the Olympics together.

“The last 15 years, that’s been the sole goal of all of my brothers,” Jonathan Lillis said.

In January, Jon qualified for PyeongChang in January – just a handful of months after Michael died in his sleep.

“(Jon) really wanted to find a way to help make his friends and family smile, even if it’s only for a day,” said Bernie Lillis.

It worked. Jon says his brother was part of that thrilling performance.

Jon fell short of a podium in the freestyle men’s skiing aerials, finishing eighth overall after he led in the qualification round.

“It’s more of a wind in your sail when you have someone to honor and make proud … someone who you love more than anything in the world,” Jon said. “That pushes you to even reach a higher level of competition.”

Bernie, Jamie and their middle son got to watch Jon in person at PyeongChang – thanks to the support of friends, family and donations from around Rochester, New York and beyond.

“It meant everything to us. In the last few months it’s been our rock,” Jamie Lillis said. “It really isn’t just us, it’s our village, it’s our community that he was jumping for.”

And the whole family knows – it was for Michael most of all. They all sported necklaces made by a local artist that contained Michael’s ashes during the Olympics.

“(Jon) definitely said he felt his brother with him the whole time. I think we all did in certain different ways,” Bernie said.

The family said that even before they leave South Korea, they’re already gearing up for Beijing in 2022.


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