Journey Of Champions presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance: Becoming Louie Vito

By Sarah Hughes, 2002 Figure Skating Olympic Champion | Oct. 23, 2013, 4:30 p.m. (ET)


Louie Vito poses at the NBC Olympics/U.S. Olympic Committee
photo shoot in April 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.
 
Sarah Hughes won
the gold medal in
the ladies' figure
skating competition
at the Salt Lake City
2002 Olympic Winter
Games.

Since grabbing fifth place at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver in the halfpipe, snowboarder Louie Vito has taken the snowboarding world by storm: he is a five-time Winter X Games medalist, four-time U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix overall champion and two-time Dew Cup overall champion. Moments before catching a flight from New York to New Zealand to continue preparations for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Vito graciously took a few minutes to chat with me for Journey of Champions presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance about his rededication to training, giving back to younger snowboarders, and how his “Dancing with the Stars” experience has helped him in snowboarding.

Sarah Hughes: Let’s start at the beginning. You grew up in Ohio, not a hotbed of young snowboarders. How did you first get into snowboarding?

Louie Vito: So there’s a small resort outside my house that’s like 300 vertical feet and my grandpa took us skiing. Then my one day my dad and I saw snowboarding. It looked cool and [I tried it]. I’ve been hooked ever since. So I started snowboarding from day one with my pops.

SH: Then you moved to Vermont and switched schools to Stratton Mountain School, a well-known skiing and snowboarding academy. How did this move impact your snowboarding career? 

LV: That was in the winter of eighth grade. I was 13 years old. In Ohio, if I missed more than five days in nine weeks, it was an automatic fail. But I was doing well in school. [The rules made it difficult to snowboard though.] So I went to Stratton to pursue snowboarding and I just made a deal with my mom. I told her I’d take Latin for four years. So I took Latin for four years and got to go to a school that accommodated snowboarding. It gave me coaches and everything. It was a great deal.

I got to snowboard in the morning, go to school in the afternoon. I got to travel. I mean, I went from Ohio to the East Coast – to a place with half pipe and with more serious coaches. I got to snowboard every day. The season was longer. Because [in Ohio], I was going to amateur nationals in like April, and we would be done snowboarding way before March. So I would be two months off of snow and then these kids from out east and out west would be snowboarding for longer seasons. In Vermont, I got to focus more on that. It was in 2002 when I went — that was the year Ross Powers won the Olympics and he graduated from Stratton Mountain School, so that was kinda a cool thing.


Snowboarder Louie Vito poses for a portrait during the 2013 Team
USA Media Summit on Oct. 2, 2013 in Park City, Utah.

SH: You did well in Vancouver in 2010 and have continued on an upward ascent. How is going into your second Games different than going into your first? Have you been preparing differently?

LV: Well, I got a new trainer. After 2010, my dad and I looked at who we thought was the most fit Olympian or winter athlete, and it was Apolo Ohno. If you ever read anything about him, he’s a workout fanatic. I met him at the White House and I used to just always pick his brain. I wanted to know who he trained with and he actually had [his trainer] John Schaeffer at a “Dancing with the Stars” party that I was at. I met John and Apolo linked us up. Apolo was so into fitness and he could go to anyone in the world, but he went to John. So I was like, ‘Well this guy must be doing something right.’ So after I talked with him, I was hooked. I went, got my rear end kicked for about six weeks of death, and now I’m in the best shape. Any Olympic athletes that want to put it to the test, they can come work out with us anytime.

SH: Ha! I’m sure there are several that will take you up on that! What does John have you doing now that’s different than what you were doing four years ago?

LV: I’m just way more focused now. I changed pretty much my whole lifestyle — the sense of how I ate, how I prepared for my sport. I stopped partying. I mean, I still go out, but I don’t drink anymore. I just want to focus and make sure that I really take advantage of this gift that I have. I’m so blessed to be able to do what I love to do and to be as good as I am at my sport, so I just want to make sure I can make the most of it while I can. I think it all comes from that. 

I use Apolo as a mentor of mine even though he did a different sport. Anything I’ve read about him, any time I’ve talked to him, I really just listen to him and see how I can apply it to snowboarding. I want to be the best that I can be. I don’t want to be the next ‘this snowboarder’ or ‘that snowboarder.’ I want to be the next Louie Vito. 

SH: Well, you have been doing things that snowboarders don’t normally do, like compete in “Dancing with the Stars” just a few months before the Vancouver Games.  

LV: “Dancing with the Stars” was because snowboarding is so much about image and how people perceive you, so I thought it was something that was really cool. It was so far away from snowboarding and I thought if I could leave my comfort zone by that far, then snowboarding should be a breeze. And it worked out. It was great exposure. It opened up my demographics to a whole new audience. I was doing things that you would never see me do. I would never wear those clothes on Halloween even. In snowboarding, I was comfortable. I felt good. I was so confident. 

SH: And everything worked out in Vancouver.

LV: I landed my runs at the Olympics and you know that was the world stage, the biggest competition for anybody and I felt good out there. And I think it all started with that [“Dancing with the Stars”] being so far away from snowboarding.


Louie Vito competes in the halfpipe finals at the U.S. Snowboarding
Grand Prix at Boreal Resort on Jan. 31, 2009 in Boreal, Calif.

SH: And then ESPN’s “The Body Issue” last summer…

LV: With “The Body Issue,” I was all for it. I like looking at it because I like to see how different athletes are built differently. I think it’s something very unique and interesting, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t know they were legitimately naked until I was kind of on the cusp of getting it. I was in New Zealand staying with a friend and I was telling him. He looked it up and he’s like, ‘How do you feel about being naked?’ And I was like, ‘Oh man!’ I mean, I never went to a public school, we didn’t do public showers, snowboarding isn’t a team sport. We don’t shower together, so that was a little awkward for me, but I was happy with how it came out. At the same time, I’m like, ‘I wish I could reshoot because I’m in way better shape now.’ I was in New Zealand for a month just snowboarding and not really working out. 

SH: That probably opened up your demographics as well! One of the things I love most is when champion athletes help younger athletes. Tell me about the Louie Vito Rail Jam. What inspired you to start it?

LV: It’s a charity rail jam. It all started because I started going to boarding school in Vermont at a young age and my parents wanted me to give back. I wanted to really focus more on the community — the mountain that really helped me get to where I am and helped shape me. I grew up in Ohio, which isn’t really land of the mountains, and I went to the Olympics in halfpipe. We don’t even have a half pipe at that mountain. So to be able to come from there and make it to the top level in halfpipe has been huge. 

[The rail jam] has been a good way to give out as much free product from my sponsors to the kids and have a great event, and just give back to those kids and show them that you don’t have to have the best mountains or the best halfpipe or anything around you to make it. If you work hard and set goals and dream big, you really can do it. It’s going to be hard, but you can do it. And in the Midwest, there aren’t a lot of pros coming through and not a lot of contests. So I just wanted to create something for them while giving back to a charity. Everything’s for free and kids just get mad product and it’s a party.

SH: Sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for spending some time with us and have a safe trip to New Zealand!

LV: Thank you. Nice to meet you!

You can follow Louie Vito through his Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or official website — or all four! — as he makes his way to the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in February.

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