U.S. freestyle skier Torin Yater-Wallace, from "brink of death" to Pyeongchang

Yater-Wallace hopes for Olympic comeback
Yater-Wallace hopes for Olympic comeback 04:44

Team USA is looking to sweep the Men's freestyle skiing halfpipe competition at the Winter Olympics, and Colorado native Torin Yater-Wallace hopes to earn a spot on the podium. Time and again, the 22-year-old has defied the odds on the halfpipe. But it's not this life-and-death sport that has dealt him his biggest challenge. Two years ago, a mysterious illness brought him to the brink of death. Yater-Wallace fought his way back, and now he's chasing redemption.

"The freedom and just the expression of yourself that you have when you're essentially just kind of creating your own path through the mountain, it's just that feeling of accomplishment when you've landed the perfect run," Yater-Wallace told CBS News' Don Dahler. "I mean, there's really nothing like it, whether it's just tricks or just catching air off of a little cliff."

Freestyle Skiing - Winter Olympics Day 9
Torin Yater-Wallace of the U.S. during the Freestyle Skiing Men's Halfpipe training on Day Nine of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at Phoenix Snow Park on February 18, 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. David Ramos/Getty Images

Yater-Wallace knows how to catch air and float in control, as he flies off a 22-foot wall.

His death-defying tricks on the halfpipe have helped make him one of the most decorated freestyle skiers in the world.

During his first run at Olympic glory in Sochi, Yater-Wallace's path to gold seemed inevitable.

But shortly before the Games, his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

And, following an accident during a routine treatment, he suffered a collapsed lung. Yater-Wallace finished in a disappointing 26th place.

In 2015, Yater-Wallace developed a rare infection in his liver and gall bladder that put him in a 10-day medically-induced coma.

Freeskier Torin Yater-Wallace. CBS News

Ironically, Yater-Wallace said, "Whilst I do a dangerous sport that people have lost their life competing in, my biggest life-threatening event was an infection to my internal organs. And I was on full life-support and, you know, really was on the brink of death."

Dahler asked, "Did you know at the time you were that close?"

"I was in and out of a few doctors; in, out of the ER a few times; [they] essentially told me I had a flu-like virus and, you know, 'Here's some Tamiflu,'" he replied. "And things just got worse and worse. And from there, I woke up, like, ten days later. So, I mean, at the time I really didn't realize the extent of the situation. I was just in dire pain, and had never been so sick in my life."

His father's absence added to the pain; he was in prison for defrauding clients.

"You know, it's really frustrating for him more so than me, when your son is, you know, on his deathbed and might not make it, and you can't do anything," Yater-Wallace said.

The mere act of breathing was a challenge. But, Yater-Wallace soon recovered and took fate into his own hands.

"It was one of the scarier moments in my entire life," he said. "And it was a fluke, and there's nothing I could have done to prevent what happened to me happening. And, I mean, ultimately you just really have to take the good from such a horrible event and use it as motivation to come back."

And come back he did.

Just two months after his near-death scare, he won the gold medal at the X Games in Oslo, Norway.

Now, with a renewed sense of purpose, he hopes to persevere one more time.

"The Olympics is just such a cool opportunity," he said. "Everything is personal, everything's for you in a somewhat selfish way. So, it's kind of that opportunity to go to this tournament of the countries and kind of represent something bigger than yourself."

Yater-Wallace will soon get another chance to do just that. Qualifications for his event begin today. And his mother, who is cancer-free, will be in South Korea rooting for him, alongside his sister and father.