The 2014 Sochi Olympics were being broadcast on delay because of the time difference between Russia and the United States. As my husband and I were watching the halfpipe competition, we already knew that Shaun White didn’t win. That’s partly why we had tuned in.

It was a huge disappointment to the 27-year-old American who had been dubbed the “Flying Tomato” early in his career because of his floppy mop of red hair. “I hate the fact I nailed it in practice, but it happens. It’s hard to be consistent,” White told ESPNafter the competition. He placed fourth.

He doesn’t wear his curly hair long anymore, though. White’s short, styled cut reveals an older, more experienced young man whose choices reflect both the successes and disappointments of his career. In 2012, White was arrested for public intoxication and suffered a minor head injury. In a New York Times profile, Elizabeth Weil writes that White recently has been known as “the unsympathetic moneybags who crashed his Lamborghini” or the “selfish jerk” who refused to allow other snowboarders to train at his personal halfpipe built for him by Red Bull prior to the 2010 Olympics.

No one questions the enormous successes White has achieved. But the break-out wonder didn’t get as far as he has without being knocked down a few times. That’s the part of the writing life many of us choose to ignore—at our own peril.