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Veteran Snowboardcross Racer Nick Baumgartner Still Has Golden Olympic Dreams

By Craig Sesker | Jan. 11, 2017, 4:21 p.m. (ET)

Nick Baumgartner competes during men's snowboardcross qualifying ahead of the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships on Jan. 15, 2015 in Kreischberg, Austria.

It is a moment that is quite literally frozen in time for Nick Baumgartner.

Just 13 days after breaking his collarbone, Baumgartner stood at the starting line on a snow-covered Colorado mountain for what was about to be the biggest race of his life.

Unable to even pull off his own jersey, and competing with 15 screws and a plate in his surgically repaired shoulder and neck, Baumgartner did the unthinkable.

He zipped down the mountain ahead of everyone else to capture a gold medal in the snowboardcross competition at the 2011 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. 

Shortly after the finish, he celebrated with his biggest fan: his 6-year-old son Landon.

“To see the look on Landon’s face, to have your boy proud of you, there’s nothing better,” Nick said. “It was absolutely the pinnacle of my career.”

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Now nearly six years later, Baumgartner remains one of the best snowboard racers on the planet.

His quest toward the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will continue when he competes at the U.S. Grand Prix on Jan. 19-22 in Solitude, Utah.

A two-time Olympian and two-time world bronze medalist, Baumgartner turned 35 last month, but he has showed no signs of slowing down. He was on world cup podiums twice earlier this year and part of a third-place team in a world cup last month in Montafon, Austria, and after placing third in the world in 2009 and 2015, he is hoping to land a spot on his fourth world championships team.

Big picture, though, all of his training is geared toward having a shot at making his third Olympic team.

Baumgartner fell short of medaling at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Warm weather at both events made it challenging for athletes to navigate the course in snowboardcross.

“It was tough and challenging for everybody at the Olympics,” Baumgartner said. “It was a rough go.”

Snowboardcross is a challenging event where competitors race down a course at high speeds while battling other competitors at the same time.

“It’s very challenging,” Baumgartner said. “Everything about it is risky. The sport is completely different now than when I started. The level of competition has gone up a lot. I still feel like I’m one of the best guys out there. I’ve been doing this a long time, and you can’t put a price on experience.”

Baumgartner grew up in Iron River, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. He didn’t take up snowboarding until high school. 

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” he said. “My dream was to play in the NFL.”

The 6-foot, 215-pound Baumgartner played college football, where he was an outside linebacker at Northern Michigan. He remains a die-hard fan of the Green Bay Packers and is following them in the playoffs this month.

Playing a physical sport like football helped him transition to racing on a snowboard.

“It’s a mix between football and snowboarding,” he said. “I just fell in love with it, and I found it at a time the sport was growing. It wasn’t even in the Olympics when I started.”

His signature performance in snowboardcross was his Winter X Games win in 2011. Passed over for a spot on the world team that year, Baumgartner headed to Colorado to train for the Winter X Games. He was determined to show he belonged on the world team.

“On Day 2 of training, I crashed at Copper Mountain and broke my collarbone,” he said. “It was the first time my son was going to watch me compete in person. After I was injured, I called the doctor right away and luckily I was able to have surgery the following day.”

With the 15 screws and a plate inserted into his neck and back for stability, Baumgartner was still set on competing in an event that was less than two weeks away.

“Everything was painful — training and qualifying,” he said. “But on race day, everything was different. The adrenaline took over.”

Baumgartner powered down the mountain ahead of field to win a Winter X Games gold medal.

“When I got to the bottom, I slid sideways on my board and I was screaming because I won,” he said. “I got off my board and started running toward my mom, who was holding my son. I grabbed my son and hugged him. It was very emotional — I was crying because I was so happy. It was the best feeling of my life.”

During the awards ceremony, Nick and Landon stood together on the medal podium.

“I had them put the gold medal around Landon’s neck,” Nick said. “It was an incredible moment. I’ll never forget it.”

Nick followed that up with a silver medal at the 2012 Winter X Games.

Father and son remain close. Landon is 12 now, and plays soccer and golf. He also is now trying his hand at snowboarding.

“I just want him to have fun at whatever he’s doing,” Nick said.

Away from the snow and mountains, Baumgartner found another sport to excel in. He began off-road truck racing in 2011, winning rookie of the year honors in the TORC Series before advancing to Pro Light trucks in 2012.

“It was fun, but it was a big-time commitment,” he said. “I am hoping to get back into it when I’m done boarding.”

Even though he’s in his mid-30s, Baumgartner hasn’t thought much about retirement from snowboardcross competition.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I am going to do it for as long as my body tells me I can do it. It’s been an unbelievable ride. I’ve traveled all over the world. It’s been an awesome experience.”

Baumgartner’s chief focus now is on making another Olympic team.

“I want another shot at the Olympics,” he said. “I want another chance to show what I can do.”

What would a gold medal mean to him?

“Winning the Olympics is a goal I set a long time ago,” Baumgartner said. “It would mean a lot to be the best in the world, but I also could use it as an example to show people what you can accomplish no matter where you come from. I’ve had a blast doing what I do.”

Craig Sesker is a sportswriter based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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