A nasty bout with appendicitis and the resulting surgery was frustrating for Olympic-medal hopeful Torah Bright last October. It cost her a month of conditioning and even more training time in the event in which she is ranked among the best in the world snowboarding. But in hindsight, the 19-year-old Australian could see a blessing in the setback.
"I never got any answer why," she said of the affliction that hit her while she was in her hometown of small, rural Cooma. "All I could think of was that it was actually perfect timing." She had just finished her Southern Hemisphere training. And following her recovery, she still had time to prepare for the Olympics, she told the Church News, speaking by cell phone from somewhere in the winter-sports mecca of Colorado where she is training. Her winter home is in Salt Lake City.
Torah was raised in the Church and remembers when her family was nearly the sum total of the membership of the Cooma Branch, Canberra Australia Stake. Her parents Peter and Marion Bright joined the Church after their first two children were born. Sister Bright said, in a Church News telephone interview from Cooma, that she was praying to know if there was anything she should be teaching her children for their spiritual growth. She and her husband were introduced by business acquaintances to the Church, of which they had never heard before.
Brothers Robin and Ben, along with sister Rowena, welcomed Torah into the family on Dec. 27, 1986. Sister Bright said she settled on the name Torah, the Jewish name for the first five books of the Bible, when Rowena's Jewish piano teacher told her the word also means "bearer of a great spiritual message."
Living in the capital of the Snowy Mountains, it was natural the family enjoyed winter sports. Torah followed her older siblings up the mountain and was followed, in turn, by her younger sister, Abish. Downhill skier Rowena went on to compete for Australia in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and Ben, a snowboarding pro himself, is Torah's coach.
At age 11, Torah stowed her skis in favor of a snowboard and at 14 began her ascent to the top of the women's world in that event. She consistently mounts the podium to claim medals as one of the top three finishers in world-class competitions.
The snowboarding culture is often at odds with standards of the Church, and entering it caused Torah to take a stand.
"I lived off my parents' testimony for a long time," she said. "I started traveling at 14 and that's when I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was definitely the first time I thought about the way I was going to live my life."
Her parents had given her a solid gospel foundation. Rowena was a good example. "Prayers become your best friend; they comfort you so much," she said.
At the beginning, she made the choice to do what's right, she said, and after that, she no longer had to worry about choosing as potential temptations arose.
"I love living my life with the gospel standards I have and I couldn't live without it now. Be in the world but not of it," she said.
The petite, attractive, blonde teenager has drawn a lot of attention for the right reasons. Sponsors have clamored for her, putting her wholesome image out on television, billboards, magazines and other media. Before agreeing to endorse products, Torah makes it clear that she will not compromise her standards in dress or behavior.
In an article in Australia's Alpha Magazine, Anthony Sharwood wrote of Torah: "In a culture of dreads, drink and weed, she's milk, cookies and freshly shampooed hair." He quoted her manager, Mark Jones, saying: "She wants to be a positive role model. She's promoting a strong anti-alcohol, anti-drugs image."
Sister Bright said her daughter was asked what item she would never travel without. Torah answered, "The scriptures."
Torah, herself, struggles with the "role model" image, claiming that she is just a normal girl. But then, how many "normal" girls are a character on a popular Xbox video game.
"That's the craziest thing ever," she said. "I sit down and play my character and it's the most frustrating thing because I can't beat myself!"
She claims that she, "herself," will be her only concern when she competes in the snowboarding half-pipe event in Torino, Italy, in February.
She is sharpening the edges on tricks to distinguish her from the competition.
"I've been working hard for years to be the best snowboarder I can be," she said. "Win or lose, I just want to do my best. It's a judged sport, so anything can happen."
Torah's mother hopes she wins a medal, but expects a wonderful Olympics no matter what. For the first time in years, in Torino the entire immediate family will be together, supporting Torah and enjoying a great reunion.
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