Shaun White Is Entering a New Era

Through five Winter Olympics, Shaun White made a career of always having tricks up his sleeve. Here are the winning strategies that continue to propel him even off the slopes.

Let Setbacks Set You Forward

When I first started snowboarding, the world was telling us it wasn’t a legitimate sport. I figured since nobody thought we were legitimate athletes, I didn’t need to train like one. I spent all my time on the mountain. It wasn’t until I got injured at the 2004 X Games that I started to put attention on how my body actually worked. I had a discoid meniscus [thicker and disc-shaped] in my right knee, and tore it doing a trick when I was 17. After surgery and a tough rehab process, I began to learn the basics. I read somewhere Andre Agassi never stretched before competing, so I decided I never would either, but created a dynamic routine to do after. I realized I’d been holding myself back. I started to think like an athlete for ways to get that edge.

Course Correct

I didn’t really start working out until 2015. I was disappointed with my results at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and needed to change things up. I knew I could uplift my mental and physical state in the gym. I found a great physical therapist in Esther Lee, who’d worked with the Williams sisters during their tennis careers and started to reverse engineer my issues.

Snowboarder Shaun White in white jacket holding snowboard wearing dark sunglasses
Courtesy Image

My left side was more developed be- cause of the way I ride, and that needed to be remedied. Jason Walsh was one of the trainers I worked with to create a program that addressed that and build strength where I needed it. It included lots of rotational movements with med balls, cable machines and kettlebells. I developed my legs and core. Everything we did was low weight and high rep to prevent me from getting too bulky.

I still train like I did when I was competing. I talked to a lot of other older athletes when I was deciding to retire, and the one thing they all said was, “Don’t stop working out.” Those gym sessions are going to stay a way of life.

Pick Your Battles

One of the best practices I learned early was self-preservation. I was attempting gnarly tricks as a teenager, and one of the older pros told me to pick my battles. It was a lesson I also learned when I tried to return from my 2004 meniscus injury too early and got a bone bruise on one of my first jumps. I had to stay off the mountain for another three months thanks to that decision, and it was one that stuck with me. I stopped focusing on what sponsors were in the crowd or what cameras were pointed in my direction, and instead focused on whether or not it was a good choice for me.

There have been a number of times I’ve had to walk away from events. For example, when I qualified for the Olympic team for slopestyle. I knew there would be backlash. There were people who commented online or on TV, but in the end, it wasn’t going to be them in a wheelchair if something went wrong. There’s a stereotype of snowboarders and other extreme athletes as being crazy daredevils who take too many risks. I’m the opposite. Everything in my career and beyond has been calculated.

Retain Rituals

I’ve traveled a lot and have learned the importance of rituals on the road—especially at the Olympics on those stressful nights before competition. I got in the habit of bringing my own pillow, and when an event was particularly important, I flew my mattress across the world as well. I have a sound machine that plays rain forest noises that help bring me down. I got in the habit of taking cold-water plunges at the end of the day after training or competing. If there’s a lake nearby, I’ll jump into it, or if the hotel I’m staying at has a bathtub I’ll fill it with ice from the machine. I’ve also learned the value of long soaks in a hot bath with Epsom salt.

Stay in the Game

Even though I’m retiring from competition, I’m staying active, just diversifying what I do. These days I start most mornings with a protein shake or bowl of oatmeal and take a long bike ride. If I’m not getting that time outdoors on my Santa Cruz Bronson, I’m skateboarding to a meeting or going for a surf at the end of the day. I don’t plan on slowing down on the snowboard, either. I get on the mountain plenty to test out new gear for my label, Whitespace. It’s the only place I find true peace. I’m lucky that I’ve fallen for a sport I can do on my own. I want to keep riding the halfpipe as long as possible, and even if I’m no longer competing for medals, there are still tricks to discover.

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