Olympic Pro Snowboarder Ty Walker Talks Slopes, Spirit, and Success

(Source: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe)At age 16, pro snowboarder Ty Walker was the youngest member of the US Snowboard Team at Sochi. We chatted with the Red Bull-sponsored athlete (who lives in Stowe, VT, and just turned 17) about the joy of snowboarding, her day-to-day routine as a pro athlete in high school, and the philosophy of moving on to the next one––great advice for athletes and non-athletes alike.

So what was your experience being at the Olympics like?
I'd never been to Russia or to the Olympics before so I really had no idea what to expect...it was really incredible. A couple of high points would be the Opening Ceremonies and seeing how beautiful it was there, the views and the mountains. It was weird to think all the best winter sports athletes in the world were staying within a mile radius! Every person you met was obviously crazy driven, super passionate about what they did, and had this crazy life of traveling all over the place. Sitting in the cafeteria, someone would sit down at your table and you'd start hearing all about their event or how they got into it. It was cool.

What's your daily routine like?
I kind of just take it as it comes! I have a lot going on, with school and trying to spend time with my family and all this snowboarding stuff. Most of the time, I'll train from November to April or May, constantly competing or riding or practicing. That's pretty much six days a week. l'll take a day off if I'm tired but I don't really like to think of it as training, like "I have to be up there" kind of thing. I mean, it is if I want to stay on the top of my game, but it's more of a fun thing that I really like to do. I go up to the mountain with my friends. You go up there and you have a fun time; you're riding, you learn new stuff, you're playing around in the park and learning from each other.


(Courtest: Red Bull)How did you start?
I started when I was seven, and the next year I really fell in love with it… it didn't matter if it was raining, snowing, negative 30, whatever was going on in Vermont, I was like, "I'm going snowboarding." It was all I ever thought about. I really liked being outside and being part of a team. A lot of the people on the team were older than me, teenagers, so I thought it was super cool to be in with that crowd. I really liked everything about it.

Sounds amazing. Do you feel that same sense of joy now even though when you're up there you have a job to do?
My Dad always says, "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." And I try to bring that to snowboarding.

Do you ever get nervous when you compete?
When I was younger I did because I put a lot of expectation on myself to do well. Over time experience has taught me it's not each individual event, it's the mark you make on the sport throughout your whole career. I don't put as much weight on one thing that I'm doing. It's so much more fun and so much easier as an athlete to move past things, especially when you're competing every week, you can't just get into this state where you're like, 'Oh I'm not doing well,' or just really get negative, because you have another competition next week that you need to get in the zone for. I've learned through my time being on the more professional circuit that one result isn't going to make or break your career so the only thing you can do is do your best. Go up there and give it 120 percent, and at the end of the day everything else is out of your hands.

That's great advice for every part of life: to not get overly attached to one single moment or single outcome and just do your best all the time.
A lot of people ask me about my injury in the Olympics and how hard it was to move past that. Looking back, I'm definitely upset that it happened, but I'm not going to spend my time dwelling, "should have, could have, would have," because you can't really change the past.

More stellar life advice: on to the next one. How did you go from that more negative mindset you mentioned you had when you were super young, to the positive attitude you have today?
When I was really, really young, like, when I first started snowboarding, I was one of these up-and-coming riders that would win sort of every time, or everyone would be impressed with what I was doing. I signed a lot of professional contracts and made it to the next level and I knew there was this expectation on me to perform––'cause I expected myself to still be winning––but I was on a completely different circuit; I was with the best riders in the world. And I had one really terrible season when I didn't do anything well…I was so upset. My whole season was basically me being really negative, and not even being passionate about what I was doing anymore. And at the end of that season, I was like, "What are you doing to yourself? Just be happy that you're out there riding."

What happened next?
I think the season following that, I didn't care as much about my results. I just cared about how I was feeling about my riding, working on progressing, learning new stuff, and I kind of fell in love with it. Before that, I loved snowboarding, don't get me wrong, but I also loved the attention; the success. Whereas after that season, I just fell in love because it was something I enjoyed and I didn't focus on expectations and all of that stuff. As long as I was happy, that was fine. And as long as I was giving it my best, I didn't really pay attention to the rest of it.

Cool. Sounds like that realization still resonates today.
That definitely helped me this season. Looking back, there was expectation on me to make the Olympic team but I didn't think about that when I was taking my runs. I just went out, did what I knew how to do, thought about how much fun the course was, and ended up making the team.

Winter Olympics: Snowboard
Ty Walker of the USA competes in the Ladies Snowboard Slopestyle Qualifying at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 6, 2014 in Sochi, Russia (Getty Images)more pics »
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