When Jon Lillis careened down the PyeongChang aerials hill for his Olympic debut, his hometown of Rochester, New York was supporting him from the United States. Jon’s mom, dad and younger brother Chris were there cheering him on. His younger brother Mikey was there too, but not in the way anyone wanted.
In October, Mikey died unexpectedly in his sleep, with the cause still unknown.
Family bound the Lillis brothers together, but aerial skiing brought them even closer. Jon took up aerials when he was 8, and his younger brothers followed suit. Together, the three of them became Team Lillis.
After Mikey’s death, Jon threw himself into his aerials training.
“When he didn’t feel like doing another jump, he’d hear his brother saying get of your ass and get up there,” Jon’s father Bernie told TODAY.
And when Jon launched himself into the air in PyeongChang, he did it in his brother's old suit and in his brother's name. He did it with Mikey.
The bright blue suit that Jon wore wasn’t just a fashionable pop of color. It was a way for him to honor his brother on the very Olympic snow the Lillis brothers always dreamed of skiing on.
“I think that everything I’ve tried to do here has been in honor of my brother,” Jon told TODAY. “I think that Mikey would have thought the world of it.”
Before the men’s aerials competition, Jon attended the Opening Ceremony wearing a special pendant with Mikey’s ashes in it. The family all have similar pieces to remember Mikey by. Back in New York, the Rochester community has been spreading #jumpingformikey to commemorate him and support the Lillis family
Jon made it to the second run of the aerials final before being cut. He’s already looking ahead to the 2022 Beijing Games with his brother Chris by his side as a teammate instead of just a supporter. Chris was attempting to qualify for PyeongChang before a torn ACL knocked him out of contention in December.
Even though Jon ended his Olympic run finishing eighth, he still made it there – and so did Mikey.