I was 11-years-old when Bill Johnson won his gold medal. Johnson was a downhiller, I was a downhiller -- and that was different from being a ski racer. Downhill is the ultimate extreme sport. People don't die shinning gates, but they die racing downhill. Fear is a huge factor in the final results of a downhill race. Johnson exuded a fearlessness that made him a hero to us junior racers. Sure Franz Klammer wowed the world in 1976 in Innsbruck, but Johnson was an American, the first American to kick butt in downhill; and he did it in a very rock star way. Screw tradition, screw paying your dues, I'm here!

Fast forward. It's now 2009, and I'm looking around on the internet to find 25-year anniversary celebrations of Johnson's historic win in '84... and I'm finding a lot of nothing. How could this be? How could the greatest champion in American Winter Olympics history be doing nothing less than bathing himself in nostalgic glory? Where was the love that Bill Johnson so rightfully deserved?

I googled Johnson's mom in hopes of interviewing my skiing hero for an article for The Ski Channel website. Google obliged with a phone number and minutes later I was talking to Bill's mom, DB. I knew a lot about Bill's Sarajevo exploits, but the other 49 years of his life were a bit clouded. I heard he had tried a comeback (and had almost died doing so), and that the crash had left him permanently brain damaged -- to what extent I did not know. I had a gut feeling that there was a bigger story there, that there were many questions unanswered.

The interview quickly developed into a full on trip to Portland with my camera in tow to spend five days with the great Bill Johnson.

I planned my trip to coincide with the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic downhill. I thought there'd be some sort of symbolism there, watching the glory of the Olympic downhill on TV with Bill in his double-wide mobile home.

I viewed those five days as a reconnaissance trip. I went to Portland not knowing the true nature of Bill's condition; what his memories were like, nor for what exactly I would be filming him.

When I returned home, I began to fully digest the totality of Bill's story. It fit the formula for a Greek Tragedy to a T. In Greek Tragedy, the main character has what's called his "Hamartia," or tragic flaw. Hamartia can be a good character trait, like confidence, but in this instance, causes the protagonist to achieve the exact opposite of his desired outcome. For Oedipus it was his hubris that lead to his destruction. For Bill, who desired to win back his wife and family, it was his total lack of fear. Fearlessness allowed for Johnson to become the greatest downhiller in the world. Fearlessness made Bill think he could do it all again at 40.

However, just like the media had done at Sarajevo in 1984, I felt that I too was making a caricature of Bill's life. The noble cause of winning one's family back makes for great copy, but the more I looked at Bill's life, the more I was convinced that he had no other choice. He'd tried and failed at so much for so long after 1984. Hell, he'd even taken up driving a taxi for a time! Bill hadn't just hit rock bottom, he was grinding his face on the stones.

The comeback in 2001 was more about reestablishing some sort of order in his life. He'd become directionless, "Just kind of banging around," says Bill's golfing buddy, Bob Sanke. Ski racing gave Bill a purpose, an order. And yes -- to Bill, there was a prize at the end, a prize bigger than money or even glory: to win back his wife and family.

To that end, the comeback wasn't about Bill's success or failure on race day. He had to turn his life around, and ski racing provided the mental discipline to do so. The ski slope was a halfway house for Bill Johnson, one that could lead to a better life. Either way, this was his final chance.

Downhill is not a sports documentary. It's a film about family and choices. At its center sits Bill, whose life story demands analysis from multiple angles and levels, and it's a story that is beyond fascinating: the rebel skier trying to win it all back. There is no Disney ending. Post-ski racing, his course was bent on self-destruction. But Bill believed he could put it all back together. It mattered not to Bill that others doubted and openly mocked his comeback. Bill always believed in himself regardless. A single-mindedness infused his fearless nature, that was Bill's advantage over other racers.

"He's a fighter." I've frequently heard people say this about Bill. It's a phrase so overused that it's meaning is lost. To color it, imagine Johnson in a coma for three weeks, a chunk of his brain removed that was attached to the blood clot. The doctors believed he would wake-up a vegetable. But Bill battles through his recovery, learning to walk and talk again, and nine months later he was back on the ski hill carving turns! Bill Johnson is a fighter -- fact.

Traumatic brain injuries are a slow oil leak. Johnson's recovery and return to the ski hill was miraculous on the religious scale, but the slow drip was a steady decline. In July of 2010, Johnson moved into a nursing home. It was frustrating for his friends and family. Frustrating that America's first Olympic skiing champion had not been able to get the help and services that might have led to a different ending. His mobile home was ill-equipped for someone with his disabilities. Where was the ski community and why wasn't anyone stepping up to help?

Phil Mahre is an American hero of the unmanufactured kind. Mahre was much like Klammer: put-off by Johnson. Off the mountain, Phil says, "We didn't respect each other because we were cut from a different fabric;" but at what point does Johnson's current struggle render his earlier competitive battles petty and dated, once and for all? A long time ago for Phil Mahre, apparently. Even though Johnson and Mahre reside on the opposite ends of the ethics spectrum, Phil Mahre is now one of the few who has stepped up to help his former teammate. Mahre often appears at benefits for Johnson, willingly making cross-country flights for these efforts. Phil Mahre is the ultimate hero in sport and deed.

"I don't think Bill has much longer to live. He's having a series of strokes," says Bill's brother, Wally. It's my hope that with this film, Bill's final years won't suffer the same ambivalence that existed with the 25-year anniversary of his historic gold medal; that the inspiration of his story will blow the cult of Bill Johnson fans right into the mainstream; that this great champion will finally get the love and respect he so deserves while he's still here to receive it.