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Deibold's Olympic High Lasts Long Past Sochi

By Doug Williams | April 28, 2014, 11:22 a.m. (ET)

Alex Deibold poses with his snowboardcross bronze medal during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

After returning from the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games with a bronze medal in snowboardcross, Alex Deibold has dropped the puck at a Boston Bruins game, thrown out the first pitch at Fenway Park, taken a selfie with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, met rocker Paul Stanley of Kiss on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, shaken the hand of the president of the United States and jumped out of an airplane.

Pierre Vaultier of France (red bib), Nikolay Olyunin of Russia
(white bib) and Alex Deibold (green bib) compete in the men's
snowboardcross final at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Feb. 18, 2014.

“I’ve checked so many items off my bucket list in the last month that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look at life normally again,” he said, laughing. “It’s really been such an incredible experience. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if it’s real.”

As he spoke from Aspen, Colo., last week, where he was participating in a high-performance snowboard camp, Deibold, 27, had just returned from six days in Hawaii with Olympic aerials skier Emily Cook. They visited U.S. military bases as part of American300’s Heavy Medal Tour, and Deibold savored every moment of the trip.

“We were meeting with the lower-level guys, the lower ranks, enlisted guys that don’t get a lot of love from the USO Tours that go through there,” he said.

The trip included a visit to Camp Smith, a Marine Corps base on Oahu, physical training at 5 a.m. the next day with Air Force personnel at Hickam Field, a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call on Wednesday to do a training run with Marine scout snipers and a Thursday physical fitness test with Marines.

The next day — “the only mellow day,” said Deibold — he and Cook each did a tandem skydive over Oahu. Deibold was paired with retired Marine Col. John Bates, a three-time Purple Heart recipient and avid skydiver.

Though Deibold has been flying through the air on his snowboard for most of his life, he’d never jumped out of a plane.

“It was absolutely incredible. So cool,” Deibold said. “And such a cool place to do it. The views of the North Shore were absolutely breathtaking, and jumping out of a plane at 14,000 feet is definitely not your everyday cup of tea.”

Alex Deibold (R) visits the U.S. Air Force 15th Comptroller
Squadron Team at Hickam Air Force Base on April 15, 2014.

Deibold said the trip gave him an appreciation for what those in the military do — and how difficult their training is.

“You know, it’s the end of our season and we’re not in training mode right now,” he said of joining their early-morning sessions. “We got our butts kicked. It was really hard, super physically demanding, and I was exhausted.

“It really gives you an appreciation to live in the boots for a day of the men and women that are making some pretty big sacrifices to protect us.”

But getting the chance to meet them was the point. Some personnel had seen Deibold or Cook perform at the Games, and others had been briefed before their arrival and seen highlights. What Deibold hoped to do was share his Olympic experience and answer questions about the Games and snowboarding.

At times he wore his bronze medal, but he said mostly he shared it.

“I’d just pass it around the room and take pictures with whoever wanted and really just kind of shared it,” he said. “It was not so much wear it around but give people a chance to see it, wear it, touch it and hold it. It was cool.”

Alex Deibold (L) and Emily Cook (R) on a combat gear run with
U.S. Marine Corps Scout Snipers at 4 a.m. on April 16, 2014.

The way Deibold won the medal was pretty cool, too.

After missing out on making the 2010 Olympic Team, Deibold went to Vancouver as a wax technician, helping the U.S. athletes.

Four years later, Deibold advanced to the snowboardcross final, further than top contenders Nate Holland and Nick Baumgartner. He then took bronze at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park behind France’s Pierre Vaultier and Russia’s Nikolay Olyunin.

The former wax tech pulled out all the right moves at the right time to gain the podium in his first Olympic Winter Games.

In that final race, Deibold was in fourth for much of the run, but made a pass in the second-to-last turn.

“(I was) looking for my opportunity,” he said, “and the guy in third made a small mistake and I took an inside line and passed him right … it was like with two features to go, right at the bottom, and I managed to stay on my feet. It was really close. I definitely had to scrap and battle my way through.”

Because almost anything can happen in the wild world of snowboardcross, Deibold said he tries not to focus on the big picture — the quest for a medal — but on the details he can control and his own preparation.

Alex Deibold, (far right), Marine Col. John Bates (second from
right) and Emily Cook (second from left) prepare to skydive on
April 18, 2014.

“I just stayed focused on my own game plan, so when I crossed the finish line, that was really the first time that I let it all sink in,” he said. “And this huge wave of emotion came over me, and my teammates broke through security and ran out and tackled me, which was one of the coolest moments.”

Since then, Deibold — who lives in Boulder, Colo., but grew up in New England — has been traveling across the country, sharing his story, his medal and his message: work hard and good things can happen.

He calls himself “just a normal, everyday guy,” and he’s carried his story and his message to schools, the military bases in Hawaii and various other stops across the United States.

“You win an Olympic medal and people put you up on this platform, and I’m not, you know,” he said. “I’m just a normal guy that works really hard and I was dedicated to something I love.”

Added Deibold: “Hopefully, if I speak to 500 people and one person takes something away from it, that makes me feel really good.”

In a way, though, Deibold’s foundation for snowboarding success was built years ago, when he attended Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, a college preparatory school with a terrific winter sports program. Other Stratton Mountain Olympic snowboarders include Ross Powers, Lindsey Jacobellis and Louie Vito.

“In Sochi, there were 12 alumni from Stratton Mountain School competing,” said Deibold, who said his experience there “helped me get where I am today.”

Deibold now has a few more events planned before he’ll finally return to Boulder to resume training and get ready to compete in some summer cycling events. He’s also already looking forward to the four-year journey toward the next Winter Games in South Korea in 2018.

“For me, and in boardercross, the name of the game is just staying healthy and staying focused,” he said. “So I just need to continue to work hard and I can’t rest on my accomplishments. There are always new kids that are getting faster. I just have to work hard.”

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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Alex Deibold