SOCHI 2014

Nov 26 Justin Reiter: In A Van Down By The River

By Doug Williams | Nov. 26, 2013, 3 p.m. (ET)
Snowboarder Justin Reiter poses during the NBC Olympics/United States Olympic Committee in April 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.

The photos on Justin Reiter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts make it seem as if he’s spent a good chunk of 2013 camping, fishing, hiking and biking.

There are gorgeous mountain vistas, sunrises and sunsets, and shots of Reiter enjoying it all.

“It kinda looks like I was on holiday the whole time,” he said.

Of course, it’s pretty convenient to take all those outdoor shots when you’re living out of your truck for five

months in and around Park City, Utah, driving from spot to spot every night and crashing in a sleeping bag in the back of a gray 2012 Toyota Tundra jammed with a bike, cooking gear, clothes and food. For Reiter it was like living in a van down by the river — but at altitude and by choice.

Welcome to the glamorous world of an Olympic hopeful.

It was all part of Reiter’s plan to do everything he can to get to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February.

Reiter — America’s top snowboarder in parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom — narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic Team in Torino in 2006. Then he tried again to represent Team USA in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games but was diagnosed with a degenerating patella tendon. He underwent surgery, believing he would have ample time to recover and prepare for those Winter Games, but his return came much slower than anticipated and again, another Olympic opportunity came and went.

Following the 2009-10 season, he retired for nearly two years. He became a regional sales and marketing manager for a golf club in Colorado and completed school to become a MAT (muscle activation techniques) specialist. Competitive snowboarding, he thought, was in his past.

But he decided to make a comeback.

Now 32, Reiter knows Sochi is his last shot, and he doesn’t want to wake up 10 years from now wondering if he did all he could to make the U.S. Olympic Team. So, after the 2012-13 FIS World Cup season, Reiter weighed all his options and decided to pack up his truck (dubbed “Grayson Steele”) at his home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and drive to Park City to spend the offseason working out at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Center of Excellence. But to do that, Reiter would have to count his pennies.

 
Justin Reiter competes in men's parallel giant slalom at a world cup
test event in Rosa Khutor near Sochi, Russia on Feb. 14, 2013.

In the past, Reiter said, he was a “blue-collar athlete,” trying to stuff 40 hours or more of work and 20 to 30 hours of training into every week. Now, he’s put work aside and is trying to make it as a full-time athlete to get maximum results. He’s gotten help from his sponsors and the USSA, but in order to do what he needs to do, he has to be fiscally frugal.

So, part of his grand plan was to live like a vagabond.

“I looked at my finances and I said, listen, you know, if I live as frugally as possible — which includes living out of my truck in Park City — then I can save all that money on rent and I can actually for once in my life be a true professional athlete and pour everything I have into this,” Reiter said.

“In the past it was always having to spread myself in both ways, working as well as physical preparation, and this year I thought, ‘You know, I’ve got nothing to lose.’ If I play it smart and wise with my money, then I can make this happen.”

For most of his time in Park City, Reiter would hit the gym for long hours, five days a week, strengthening and stretching his body. At other times, he would train outside, blasting up and down mountains on his bike or doing day hikes and overnighters up and down Utah peaks.

Now that he’s back in Colorado competing and training on the slopes again, he looks back at the experience as a mind-cleansing adventure. It allowed him the undistracted freedom to focus on one thing, every day: getting himself in peak condition to make the U.S. Olympic Team. It not only was good for his body, but for his soul.

Every night he could drive to a beautiful spot, take in the views and revel in the silence.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I got to sleep underneath the stars. I got to wake up to beautiful views that people pay millions of dollars for, and I got it for free.”

The summer experience in Park City is part of the larger story of Reiter’s return to snowboarding. When he retired in 2010, he was angry and frustrated. He left the sport and spent almost two years in the working world. Although he enjoyed the business world, he missed snowboarding.

“I got back into it for the sole reason of having fun and falling back in love with the sport that had given me so much,” Reiter said.

Now Reiter is coming off a strong 2012-13 season. He was sixth in the world in parallel slalom points and the No. 1 American, had multiple top-four finishes on the world cup circuit and earned the silver medal in the parallel slalom at the World Snowboard Championship in Canada in January (and was 11th in parallel giant slalom). He had a gold medal within his grasp but missed the third-to-last gate in the final.

Being “vice champion” rather than world champion was disappointing, but Reiter has moved on. He’s hoping to get a shot at gold on a bigger stage.

Of course, he’s not a lock to make the U.S. Olympic Team for either the parallel or giant parallel slaloms. It’s a talented field, and the competition will be stiff.

He’s off to a good start, though  — he had a third-place finish in a deep field in the parallel giant slalom event at the USSA NorAm Race to the Cup at Copper Mountain last week to kick off his season — but knows he will have to produce early on the world cup schedule to earn a spot.

At this point, he’s optimistic, but he knows all he can do is his best.

“The only thing I can control is how I perform,” he said. “I can’t control my results because somebody may perform better. There’s also that terrible thing called back luck. Who knows?”

Theddo Remmelink, who’s been coaching Reiter since 2002, believes the snowboarder is in position to get to Sochi. Remmelink, a snowboarder for the Netherlands in the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, has been with Reiter through all the ups and downs of his career and said his maturity, determination and better technique are now points in his favor.

“He’s definitely ripened a lot as a person and athlete,” Remmelink said.

“I think in the time away from snowboarding, he really found out he loves to work out, and how much he loves to compete,” he added.

Reiter admitted he has some trepidation going into the start of this possible Olympic season “because I’ve been on the bad side of some bad luck two Olympic cycles now.” But he feels as if it’s his time.

He’s dreamed of getting to the Games since he was a boy. At 18 months, his mom strapped little red plastic skis to his feet at Squaw Valley, Calif., the site of the 1960 Winter Games. By 9, he’d fallen in love with snowboarding. The first time he saw a snowboarder shooting out of the trees at Copper Mountain and carving his way down the slope, he told his mom, “I need to do that.” When she gave him a board for Christmas that was taller than he was, he slept with it that night.

Snowboarding was added to the Olympic Winter Games program in 1998, with parallel giant slalom first appearing in the Games in 2002. Parallel slalom will make its Olympic debut in Sochi.

“Even before snowboarding was in the Olympics, I always felt that it was going to be,” he said.

And it very well could be in Sochi.

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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