AJ Muss is just 23 years old, but his has been an eventful life so far. As an alpine snowboarder, AJ qualified for this year's Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, competing for Team USA— but that's not the only reason we love his story. We've already seen a number of new young American stars be made on the mountain during these Olympic Games, including fellow snowboarders and gold medalists Chloe Kim and Red Gerard. When AJ competes in the Men's Parallel Giant Slalom beginning later this week, we hope to see him shine as brightly as his teammates have so far.
Because there was a time when AJ was at risk of never making it out of the hospital, let alone down a mountain at the Olympics. It was his near-death experience that inspired the New Jersey native to become the best snowboarder he could possibly be.
AJ started racing when he was 6 years old. By the time he was in fifth grade, his family moved to Colorado for the winter, so that AJ, who was proving to be a snowboarding prodigy, could compete at a higher level. From the beginning, AJ had one goal: be the best and don't let anybody or anything stand in his way. And he hasn't—even after being close to death.
In 2014, AJ underwent a routine surgery after suffering tears in his shoulder. But his recovery was the furthest thing from routine. What AJ and his family learned later was that the athlete had developed a life-threatening hole in his heart, called a postoperative pulmonary edema. But in the moment, when his mother found AJ with his eyes rolling back in his head, all they knew was that he needed immediate and drastic help to stay alive. After a complicated transfer to a hospital in Denver, during which he had to be revived after being clinically dead for 30 seconds, AJ was put into a medically induced coma so that doctors could investigate the issues and operate to fix them.
AJ survived this ordeal, thanks to the close attention of his surgeons, but doctors told him he needed further procedures, including heart surgery, which would mean he'd have to give up the thing he loved most: snowboarding. That's where he drew the line. "Snowboarding is a dream I would never give up," says AJ.
Determination and the support of his family helped AJ make a full recovery, even without the heart surgery, and since then he has clocked some of his best times ever. "I was a good snowboarder before the incident, but after I became a great snowboarder," he says.
At age 23, AJ is the first and youngest snowboarder to claim EIGHT first-place prizes in the same NOR-AM season, and he's currently ranked in the Top 30 Alpine Snowboarders worldwide! To top it off, the young athlete is about to achieve his life-long dream of competing in the Olympics.
Here's how AJ describes it: "Being named an Olympian is an honor and pleasure. It's something I've always wanted to be and I'm proud to be named an Olympian."
This HooplaHa original video was produced by Tracy Chevrier, shot by Sergio Uzurin, and edited by Kellie Sieban. For more inspiring videos like this, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our Only Good News Newsletter.