It’s not easy bouncing around the alpine snowboard racing tour without a coach, technician or trainer, traveling light and cheap, and competing in a sport that gets little attention — even in snowboarding circles, where much of the focus is on the freestylers, with their acrobatic tricks.
But in between making his own travel arrangements, bunking with friends and having to introduce himself to younger boarders who don’t know who he is, Olympian Justin Reiter has a newfound peace — and suddenly new success — in this sport he loves.
It’s been a winter in the sweet spot for Reiter, who toiled in obscurity for years, even living out of his Toyota Tundra truck during one offseason so he could spend all his time focused on grueling summer mountain biking and weight training. He asked for money for training on RallyMe, a crowd funding site for athletes.
|Watch Justin Reiter's gold-medal winning run from the FIS Alpine Snowboard World Cup in Moscow.|
A lot of athletes would have packed it in and moved on. But Reiter is starting to see the rewards of his frugal life dedicated to training — at least the rewards most of us think of, the medals. Reiter won his first ever FIS Alpine Snowboard World Cup event last week in the parallel slalom event in Moscow. In the final, Reiter beat two-time Olympic medalist Benjamin Karl of Austria.
Reiter’s win followed his previous best finish a week earlier, when he was runner-up in Asahikawa, Japan — putting him in the hunt for the overall points title. After the race in Russia, Reiter is third in parallel slalom standings, 670 points off the lead held by Slovenia’s Zan Kosir. It also follows last year’s Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, where Reiter realized a dream of just competing at the Games, after narrowly missing out on the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games because of injuries.
After years when Reiter wasn’t sure this path was going to lead to success, he’s finding a groove.
“I’ve always struggled with doubt, with, for a lack of a better term, demons,” said Reiter, who quit racing for a while after missing the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and worked in marketing at a Colorado ski resort.
But Reiter has come back with a new focus born of the understanding that racing and training are what he loves, whatever the outcome.
But winning doesn’t hurt.
“I have a little bit more self confidence,” Reiter told TeamUSA.org. “The success has reaffirmed to myself what I’m able to accomplish.”
While the rest of the world may measure Reiter’s new success by his recent performances, he also has an appreciation for the life he’s been afforded by returning to the sport and chasing adventures, from racing down mountains in winter, to his training bike rides up them in the summer. And lately it’s come with some unexpected rewards.
Last month, Reiter was invited to participate in a “sports envoy” program by the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and spent a few days teaching orphaned children to snowboard.
“Each one had the personality and heart of a giant,” Reiter said. “Their passion inspired me. Upon leaving and saying goodbye to them I choked up when one looked me straight in the eye and said ‘Never give up.’ It was a powerful moment for me and I hope I impacted their lives as much as they impacted mine.”
While Reiter’s racing success has followed what some would see as intense sacrifice, it may be that the Spartan lifestyle contributed as much to Reiter’s emergence as a top racer as the training the lifestyle allowed.
“I conjured some power from that,” Reiter said of his summer sleeping in the truck in the mountains outside Salt Lake City. “I took care of myself, and made the necessary sacrifices to achieve my goal, and that’s empowering.”
Reiter said that summer of 2013 also made him adaptable. Some athletes think they have to have a perfect training environment, but that doesn’t prepare you for racing, Reiter noted.
“When you’re on the mountain in a race, conditions are never perfect,” he said.
Even so, Reiter was able to upgrade just a bit last summer. He spent the summer of 2014 training in Park City again, but was able to get a really good deal renting a room from a friend.
“It’s a pretty small room,” Reiter said. “In all honesty, I missed my truck.”
Reiter’s win in Moscow was the first for an American in an alpine snowboarding world cup in more than a decade, with Adam Smith being the last U.S. athlete to win in the competition, back in 2003. But as the world cup season comes to a close this weekend in Winterberg, Germany, Reiter is in an even more rare position.
“There’s a little stress because I’m in the hunt for the overall, which is a position I’ve never been in,” Reiter said. “I’m just trying to stay focused on what I can control, how well I train this week.”
And after the season, will it be time for the 34-year-old Reiter to think about retiring again?
Reiter said he’ll assess that after the season when he returns home to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. But he did say he’s looking forward to getting back to training on the bike this summer.
“I need to search my soul and see what I truly want,” Reiter said. “I have to do this because I want to, not just because I’m riding well.”
Dave Royse is a Chicago-based freelance journalist and a former reporter for the Associated Press and News Service of Florida. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.