Steamboat Springs Lynn Mayer can't talk about her son's final mogul run at the Olympics without crying.
Travis Mayer had surprised everyone by qualifying first, meaning he would ski last in the finals of the freestyle moguls event. As he came out of a heated tent at Deer Valley, he heard the roar of the crowd and lifted his arms. He told his coach he was about to win him a medal.
His mom could barely stand up. She was nauseous with worry.
But Travis Mayer was on the verge of exploding.
"The level of competition is so high that it's nobody's race to lose. You really have to ski right on the edge of exploding to win," Travis Mayer said Thursday from his Steamboat Springs home. "Our sport is defined by calculated recklessness."
Mayer talks about that moment, standing on the precipice of the 265-meter course, like it was yesterday.
The crowd of about 15,000 or so including 35 of Mayer's family members and friends was on its feet, cheering wildly and waving American flags.
While many of the spectators were there to see his famous teammate Jonny Moseley, the day would belong to Mayer.
And though his mother's knees were knocking, Mayer's were steady. In a sport where knee injuries and surgeries are more common than colds, Mayer felt strong and relaxed. He had bolstered himself by spending almost the entire previous day eating and drinking, devouring huevos rancheros, crepes, beef stew, hot sandwiches, spaghetti, a swordfish steak and "uncomfortable amounts of liquid."
Skiing last, it would be his race to win.
"I was just trying to have a good time and enjoy it," he said. "If I was relaxed, I knew I'd ski a good run."
A top development team athlete who had had trouble cracking the top team until just before the Olympics, Mayer peaked at the right moment, sped down the course and won the silver.
His life has changed forever.
After losing $6,000 last year for lack of enough sponsorship money to pay for his skiing and traveling expenses, Mayer said he would never have to pay to race again. If he wanted to go to France to race or train, he could have a ticket within 20 minutes, he said.
"When you win a medal, things get really hectic," he said. "Everybody's your best buddy."
Mayer, who turns 20 today, now gets paid by businesses to talk to their clients. He has done so many interviews and promotions in the past week not to mention the raucous Olympic parties he has been sleeping only about four hours a night.
Living in the Olympic village was exciting and a little surreal, he said.
"It's like a college dorm," said the Cornell sophomore who is studying finance and may go to law school. "Except when you go to breakfast you see the entire Canadian hockey team and Wayne Gretzky."
His silver is the highest medal ever awarded a Steamboat Springs athlete. Mayer said he feels close to the community where he has lived for five years, attending Lowell Whiteman School.
He said he really enjoyed the Olympic send-off celebration on Feb. 1. Although he sometimes feels like a "vagabond," traveling throughout the world, his home is here. He only wishes he had more time to enjoy it.
"This is definitely home but it's also difficult because I don't spend enough time here to have a normal life," he said.
Mayer said he loves to go back to Howelsen Hill and spend time with the young athletes in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
"It's nice to go down and hang out with them," Mayer said. "They're so enthusiastic. They're in it for all the right reasons. It's definitely refreshing."
"It's probably more for my benefit than for theirs."
Rick DeVos, the executive director of the Winter Sports Club, said he is impressed by Mayer's maturity. The medallist spent time this winter talking to the club's 13- and 14-year-old skiers and judging one of their contests.
Mayer said he would probably be stopping by Howelsen tonight to talk to the kids. On Thursday, he spoke to three classrooms of students from his other hometown near Buffalo, N.Y about the Olympic experience.
Mayer is now preparing to fly to Japan on Sunday for another World Cup event and then he's off to Finland. The races don't stop just because he won a medal.
Mayer said he wants to stay on the team for at least another couple of years. He doesn't want to slow down and then try to join onto the team again, as Moseley did. The sport, he thinks, passed his teammate by.
Though Moseley, who took gold at Nagano in 1998, was able to make the Olympics and placed fourth, he was no longer the best athlete there.
"Since he left, the sport got considerably faster," Mayer said.
Mayer said he plans to get his degree at Cornell and will go to school this summer. Until then, he will be doing everything he can to improve at his sport.
"It's not as glamorous as it looks on TV. It's a lot of hard work," Mayer said.
The Olympics are the only time the world or at least America watches his sport, but Mayer said he doesn't mind. He isn't even sure he'll make it to 2006 or the Olympics.
"I could ski until 2006 and not even make it," he said. "Four years is a long time."