Family Carries Memory of Lost Son into PyeongChang Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (WAVY) – When Jonathon Illis competes in men’s aerials, you can be you’re going to see something special.

And it’s not just because he’s an incredible athlete, but because he carries his brother along with him.

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Bernie and Jamie Lillis are proud Olympic parents -- sporting the red, white and blue with pride.

“We’re hoping he has a great finish, but we’re really just here to be a part of the Olympic experience,” said Bernie Lilli.

Along with their team pride – the Lillis family wears loss and grief.

In October, their youngest son Michael died in his sleep at the age of 17. The family wears necklaces made by a local artist that contain Michael’s ashes.

Bernie and Jamie once thought they’d send three sons to the Olympics.

“It was always their dream that at possibly 2022, that they would all be jumping together,” Jamie Lillis said.

No one would blame Michael’s older brother, Jonathan, if he had taken a few months off. But instead, he’s competing in PyeongChang.

“When he’s ready to give in or not to as many training jumps or maybe the weather’s bad, he hears his brother saying, ‘Get off your butt and get up there and keep training.’” He said. “And so I think he’s using it as a motivating factor.”

Jonathan wore his brother’s ashes around his neck during the opening ceremony. The loss of Michael will always be there, but his memory will keep pushing his family forward.

“We’ll work on healing as a family and start training again for the next season next year,” Jamie said.

Back in New York, at Bristol Mountain in Canandaigua – where the Lillis family practices – an aerial site is being built in Michael’s honor.

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