SCHLADMING, Austria -- When Alpine skier Kristian Sandercoe raced into the finish during Sunday's super-G finals at the Special Olympics World Games, he had an extra cheerleader in the stands waving the Aussie flag. Luke Fitzpatrick, his coach and mentor since he was 15 years old, had driven to Schladming from Switzerland to surprise him.
"He decided on the spur of the moment that he wanted to be here to watch Kristian compete," said Jan Sandercoe, Kristian's mom. "He left at 1:30 Sunday morning with his two young sons and drove five and a half hours to be here on time."
When Kristian was a teen, Jan enrolled him in ski school at Perisher ski resort, almost three hours from their home in Canberra, where Fitzpatrick became his coach. The two quickly bonded. Even after Fitzpatrick and his family moved to Switzerland, where he currently runs a ski school in Lenzerheide, he and Kristian continued to keep in touch via Skype and WhatsApp. Fitzpatrick hadn't planned to attend the World Games, but when he realized he had no bookings for ski lessons over the weekend Kristian was scheduled to race, he took it as a sign and booked a room in Schladming.
And then Luke almost ruined the surprise.
"By mistake, Luke sent a WhatsApp message to Kristian detailing his plans and it was supposed to go to me," Jan said. "Kristian saw it, but he thought Luke was making a joke."
On Sunday morning, a few hours before Kristian's first race as a World Games competitor, Fitzpatrick and his sons showed up to wish him good luck. It had been two years since they'd seen one another in person.
"I was so surprised," said Kristian, 29.
That surprise was the extra inspiration he needed to take a silver medal in the super-G. "I went real fast today," Kristian said. Fitzpatrick was there to congratulate his student after the race and remained in Schladming until Tuesday morning to attend his medal ceremony.
On Saturday, Kristian and his mom and aunt plan to make a stop in Lenzerheide to spend a couple quality days visiting with Fitzpatrick and his family before continuing home to Canberra.
"I think having him here was an incentive for Kristian," Jan said. "He knew he was here, he knew my sister and I were here. I think it motivated him."