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.
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.
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.
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.