As snowboarder Arielle Gold kicked off the women's halfpipe final at the Winter Olympics on Feb. 13 in Pyeongchang, former Broncos safety David Bruton Jr. tuned in from half a world away.
Bruton, who is working toward a physical therapy degree at University of Colorado Denver, was studying at Auraria Library in downtown Denver, preparing for a practical exam for his anatomy lab course, when he gave himself a break to watch his friend, one of America's top snowboarders, compete for an Olympic medal.
Her first run had ended abruptly when she failed to land an ambitious first trick, a challenging 1080-degree rotation. But on the second attempt, she completed the move and finished the run with a 74.75 score from the judges, putting her one spot behind a medal finish.
To have a chance at leapfrogging fellow American Kelly Clark to move up the leaderboard, Gold needed to improve upon that second run by at least seven points. Instead, she improved by 11. When Clark's final run score fell short of Gold's by 2.25 points, the Steamboat Springs native secured the bronze medal.
After the competition concluded, Gold wrapped herself in the American flag while cheers came not just from the crowd, but also the Auraria Library.
"I started watching it and geeking out," Bruton says. "I was like, 'She did it! She landed a clean run!' I feel like tricks have gotten so much bigger that it's harder to land a big run nowadays. So I was extremely happy and so much so that I forgot where I was, because I was yelling in the library."
Bruton had hoped he would be in Pyeongchang for that moment. Unfortunately, he couldn't work the trip into his school schedule.
But that didn't mean he'd miss the opportunity to watch Gold's biggest achievement. After all, she had been there for his when he and the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.
Bruton and Gold's friendship just makes sense.
For one thing, their professions and hobbies overlap. Ever since he was drafted by the Broncos in 2009, Bruton has embraced the outdoors lifestyle that is embedded in Colorado, taking to the foothills and mountains to go mountain biking, off-roading in his Jeep or snowboarding. Gold, meanwhile, has embraced the other central tenet of Colorado life, which is being a Broncos fan.
"I grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, so it was kind of in my blood," Gold says. "My dad started bringing me to games when I was maybe 6 years old. At the time, I used to come just to eat the food and because it was fun, but as I got older I got a lot more into it. Now I know pretty much everything I could about the Broncos."
The two first connected on Instagram through a mutual friend, Keri Herman, a slopestyle freeskiier. Shortly after that, Bruton invited Gold to watch the Broncos take down the Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
Thrilled to have witnessed the Broncos take another step toward the Super Bowl, Gold then went to take the next step in her career at the Winter X Games in Aspen.
In the week leading up her event, she was surprised to receive a Broncos jersey from Bruton — the first of two surprises he had in store for her.
"He sent me a jersey out to the X Games and I wore that in my competition," Gold says. "And I actually got silver in it, so he attributes that to his lucky jersey. After that, I was at dinner with my friends the night after I finished competing, and I was just talking to him about the Super Bowl and how cool it was and how cool it would be to go, and he just said, 'Oh, I got you!' and ended up being able to get tickets for us. So all I had to do was book my flight to get there and then he had everything set up, which was pretty unreal.
"Oh, my gosh, I was so happy. Even at the time, when he first told me, I was kind of nervous. I wasn't sure if I should go, and then I remember telling my mom and my dad and they were like, 'Of course you should go!' [I said,] 'You're right. Why am I even considering not going?' I ended up going and having the time of my life."
After the X Games wrapped up on Jan. 31, she joined Herman and Bruton's brother for the trip to the Bay Area.
Once there, Bruton and Gold got to know each other better because Bruton, who had fractured his fibula in the Broncos' Week 15 game against Pittsburgh, was on injured reserve.
"With me being on IR, I had an ample amount of time to go see the city and hang out with them when they got out there," Bruton says. "She was just stoked about being around the atmosphere, the Broncos — of course — and to get a chance hang out and shoot the crap."
As you'd expect, the experience was a whirlwind.
"I had to remind myself not to, like, fan out a little around him and at the Super Bowl being around some of the other players as well," Gold recalls. "It's a totally different world, and so it was really cool to connect and see what it's like from his perspective. He's really the only guy I know that plays in the NFL, so to be able to kind of talk to him and spend some time with him — he's just such a great guy."
After the Broncos secured their third Lombardi Trophy with a 24-10 win over the Panthers, after the confetti fell and after Gold returned home from the trip, she looked back on the trip in wonder.
"When I got home it was hard to be back home, because I'd had so much fun that weekend," she says.
In the years since, the two have become even better friends. Bruton has cheered her on in-person at the X Games and other competitions, and the two will occasionally go mountain biking together.
"I've been to a few of her events cheering her on," Bruton says. "I always watch her events when she's competing, whether it's on TV or if I'm in a study group and I pull up my phone to make sure I get a chance to watch her run. I've been a fan of her since we met, and that's kind of the friendship we've had. We give each other hard times and whatnot, but we're always in each other's corner when it comes to accomplishing big things."
And now that they've both accomplished big things, they can fulfill a deal they made a while ago.
"We made little deals like, 'If you get a medal, I'll let you wear my ring,'" Bruton says. "I don't know how long we're going to do that for, but I think it'd be pretty cool when we get a chance to swap our big accomplishments."
Who knows — maybe in the future he'll even have the opportunity to do so in a professional capacity, as they sometimes kid one another.
"We always joke about him finishing up PT school and then being my physical therapist once he's done with that," Gold said with a laugh. "We just have a great friendship going."