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He'd won the gold medal in sailing. Maybe it wasn't quite as he'd imagined it in those boyhood renderings, but it was just as sweet.
When Nick returned to the U.S., he was feted as a conquering hero. At John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., he was met by supporters chanting, "U-S-A! U-S-A!" But both he and Marin were worsening by the day. The cancer had spread through Marin's brain, and by November she was sleeping as many as 22 hours a day. Nick, weighing less than 90 pounds, continued to use the breathing machine he had been on for a while and, unlike Marin, had to turn down an invitation to the White House. Having achieved their goals of getting to Beijing, they set more modest benchmarks. Get to Thanksgiving. Get to Christmas. Get to the New Year.
They never met and might not even have been aware of each other. One was an 18-year-old woman, the other a 42-year-old man. One was a swimmer, the other a sailor. Their relatives have never met, either. Still, when they recall Marin or Nick, the stories ring with the same themes. They talk about the financial toll of terminal illness—even with the blessing of health insurance. About how, even in the bleakest times, their faith in humanity was affirmed. About how the "Olympic spirit" is no fiction. But most of all they talk about how a love of water can make someone unsinkable.
Marin Morrison died on Jan. 2, 2009.
So did Nick Scandone.
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For a photo gallery of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, go to SI.com/photo