Kelly Clark is a lean, mean snowboarding machine. With over 70 career wins and 3 Olympic medals to her name, Kelly has definitely earned herself some serious bragging rights. But don’t be fooled. No matter how easy she makes snowboarding look on T.V., her impressive list of accomplishments was not easily earned. Today, it stands as a testament to her diligence, dedication and unswerving love for the sport — taking her to where she rightfully belongs: on the podium.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in snowboarding and what it was like to attend Mount Snow Academy?
I always say I started snowboarding before it was cool. There was no X-Games. There were no Olympics. The first year it was even allowed at my mountain was 1990. I kind of grew up with it and through that, I had an opportunity to snowboard more and in high school, I thought “well, any opportunity to snowboard more, I’m in. I’ll go to this mountain school. I’ll go to school half day, snowboard half day.” As a result of that, I started to compete. Before I went to Mount Snow Academy, I never had aspirations of being a competitive snowboarder. That was the same year that the Olympics first had snowboarding in it, so it all kind of fell together and I fell in love with competing through Mount Snow Academy. After two years of attending school, I was picked up by the U.S. team and I’ve kind of been on this fast track ever since.
2. Was it a typical curriculum?
Yeah, so they basically took your curriculum from your home school – so I went to a traditional high school in the first quarter and fourth quarter. Then in the two middle semesters, I took that curriculum and completed it with a tutor from Mount Snow Academy. So, actually, that one-on-one learning style suited me much better and I ended up excelling in academics as a result.
3. At 18, you won the gold medal at your first Olympics and then proceeded to become the first woman to land a 1080. What was running through your head during those two moments?
Podiuming at the Olympics – that’s one of the most overwhelming thing you could ever do. It’s incredible in many ways. I think for me, it was extra special because it was only 5 or 6 months after 9/11, so it was amazing to be part of something that people were celebrating – that people were happy about. The news and the media…[it was the] first gold medal in the host country for that Olympics, so I think it came with a lot of national pride and a lot of really great exposure for our sport. It was really just a privilege.
And for the 1080 – for that season, I really wanted to be intentional. I didn’t want to do tricks because it was a contest, because it was the X-Games finals, because it was an Olympic year. I didn’t want that to be my motivator. And I had already set out these goals and the 1080 was one of them. That 1080 was a huge goal for me because no one had ever done it, first of all, and I wanted to do it on my terms. So for that contest, I already had the contest won and I was able to do it in the victory lap. I wasn’t at the end of my ability level, trying to win the contest, trying to land a few tricks. I raised my own bar that season and so I had the opportunity to push myself. And for me, at the end of that run, it was an incredible moment of snowboarding – it’s easy to celebrate yourself, but to get down and have the women tackle me — my competitors celebrating. That was probably the most the special part. Anyone can celebrate themselves, but to be celebrated by your peers, it’s very unique.
Yeah, I’ve tried snowboarding once and I think I spent more time in the snow, falling over my snowboard than actually riding on it.
Yeah, most people get sore when they start to learn. Like their upper bodies because they’re pushing themselves off the snow. They’re like “I’m so sore!” That happens, but it gets better!
4. Your faith is an important part of who you are today. Can you tell me about that experience?
I think it’s easy for competitive athletes to get their significance and identity from their performance. That’s what we’re out there doing every weekend – competing and trying to place and trying to push ourselves. It’s very easy to get your sense of your self worth from that performance and I don’t necessarily think that that’s a healthy thing. So for me, my faith really is the backbone of my identity. It allows me to know that I have significance outside of my performance. It gives me a bit of a bigger perspective than just being an athlete in the snowboarding world. And I get the freedom to operate from that place of secure identity — to get to snowboard, not have to snowboard to be who I am. It ended up giving me a lot more freedom and a lot more enjoyment. I think a kind of a testament to that is that I was able to complete for the last 15 years and, perhaps, I love it more today than when I first started.
5. How did you get your idea to start the Kelly Clark Foundation and can you tell us a little about it?
It was 2010 when I started the Kelly Clark Foundation. I got to a point in my career where I was very successful and I looked around and had all these wonderful competition results. Then, I thought who benefitted from it apart from me? — if that’s all I would leave behind. And I started thinking about life and I started thinking about the bigger picture and I thought, how can I make snowboarding better because I was part of it? And to do that I looked at the needs of our sport: it’s not always accessible, it can be expensive, most winter sports are. I knew what my needs were growing up and how much my family invested into my dreams and into my future and so that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to create opportunities and I wanted to make the sport of snowboarding better.
Over the last 4 years, we’ve given out almost $55,000 to high level competitive athletes and snow related nonprofits. So we’re funding high school kids in mountain schools, helping pay for their tuitions and we’re also bringing kids out onto the snow. So underserved youth and kids who never had the chance or the experience or the exposure to snowboarding – that’s who we are creating access for across the board: high level and entry level. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s amazing to pour all my efforts into something. I worked really hard on the competitive side of things and on the fitness side of things, and all of these things, but I know that only lasts for so long. But to actually build something that will outlast my ability to perform — that has been one of my greatest achievements in my life.
6. What do you have in store for the future?
Well to be honest, when I first set out on this journey, I didn’t expect to still be doing it at 30 years old and to have been to four Olympic games. That kind of exceed my expectations but at the same time, there isn’t really a rulebook or a guideline for what the traditional age of a snowboarder is. So I go based off of my motivation and my enjoyment. I love it more than I ever have and I’m more motivated than I’ve ever been and I honestly don’t think I’ve reached my potential yet.
7. So, does that mean, you’re planning a 5th Olympics?
I wouldn’t count me out by any means. I always say that I’m going to continue snowboarding until I find something more worthy of my life. And for me, right now, it’s still snowboarding and I’m still continuing to pour all my efforts into it. If I still love it and I’m still motivated, in 4 years time, I wouldn’t count me off of the Olympic team by any means.
8. If you had to choose another Olympic sport to be a gold medalist in, what would it be?
Lets…see. I really enjoy watching the summer Olympics and gymnastics is always pretty incredible. I would say I’d want to be part of that sport, if I had to choose one. And in some ways, it’s probably similar to snowboarding.
9. Useless talent?
I’m sure they’re very plentiful. If I had to think of one…I’m a big DIY person. I mean, that’s kind of an useful talent, though. I can pretty much fix anything around the house, build my own deck furniture and things like that. It’s just a random talent that I have. I’m a DIY-er, for sure.
10. Scenario: You’re hungry and have no money. You have to trade all your Olympic medals for one food item, what would it be?
Probably In and Out Burger. I know they’re only like 6 dollars, but it would be worth it.
Secret menu? Animal style?
Yeah…I’m basic. Basic cheeseburger, for sure.
Good to know Kelly. In that case, I’ll wager my cheeseburger for the gold. Fair deal?
Photo Courtesy of nbcnews.com