Nick Baumgartner competes at the FIS Snowboard World Championships on Feb. 1, 2019 in Solitude, Utah.
Three-time Olympian and snowboardcross athlete Nick Baumgartner was doubtful he would be where he is today — 39 and still competing. But with a global pandemic having shut down most of the world, and travel having come to a standstill, he was starting to think a race this year — let alone an international one — was also doubtful.
“I have been saying that until I’m at a race, racing, I don’t know what to think. Things change so much, and so quick,” he said a week before boarding a plane to Europe for the first time this season. He will be competing at the SBX World Cup in Valmalenco, Italy this weekend.
“I’m fortunate to live where I live and do what I do, and I’m not going to complain,” he said about all the recent cancellations to his racing calendar. “It’s unfortunate, for sure. And I am running out of time.”
When he started his snowboarding journey at 15-years-old, the Michigan native would have called you crazy if you told him he would still be doing this today.
“I knew it was going to be a long career and I was going to have as much fun with it as I could, but I would have never believed it back then. It’s been quite a journey,” he said.
His journey has included three Olympics, with his most recent being the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 where he just missed the podium with a fourth place finish. In November, he was once again named to the U.S. national team, marking 16 years on the team and making him the oldest snowboarder on Team USA. It also means he is one step closer to making the team headed to Beijing in 2022.
“To just make the team would be incredible,” he imagined. “But to medal, that would be unbelievable. That’s the legacy I want. I mean, I’ve always been the underdog. I came from my local mountains — less than 500 feet tall. And now I’m racing against the best snowboarders in the world, on the biggest mountains.”
With his 40th birthday approaching at the end of the year, he knows he has to work that much harder. “You know that thing you’re told when you’re younger and you don’t believe it?” he said about aging. “How you’re going to have to work harder, you won’t recover as fast and a lot of things start to work against you? But this is my last go.
There is no next time, so I need to come fully prepared. It’s going to be tough, but I like that. I mean if it was easy, anyone could do it. If it’s tough, that’s the way you want to tell the story, right?”
Baumgartner is no stranger to tough. Having grown up in Michigan where he was an all-American wrestler in high school and college linebacker, he has had to work odd jobs just to keep doing what he loves. “Maybe I didn’t come from a lot of money,” he said. “But people always ask me, ‘do you think you can make another Olympics?’ and I say absolutely, I know I can make an Olympics. ‘But do you think you can medal?’ Doing it the way I’m doing it, probably not, if I’m being honest.”
“I’m pouring concrete all summer long, focused on running a business, so maybe I’m not giving myself the best chance” he said about the off-season. “So I need to find a way to put in more training than I ever have, because every year I need to train that much harder to be able to keep up and keep the edge that I have.”
With the fallout from the coronavirus, he said training has not been easy. “There’s only been a few times I’ve been able to get into an actual gym and do a workout,” he said. “But I think I’ve done a good job of adapting to it. Could I be stronger if I was in a gym every day? Maybe, but this is the same problem all athletes are facing.”
One thing he has on his side is his support system. Coming from a small community in the upper peninsula of Michigan, he said his family and friends are the reason he has been able to “chase this dream into an age bracket that is hard to believe.”
“I have a lot of people who live through me, and my journeys — and that helps motivate me,” he said. You can follow his journey to Beijing on Facebook and Instagram. “The next time the Olympics roll around, I won’t be able to keep up. Probably. But let’s not close that door exactly yet. So while I have the chance, I don’t want to live with regret. Like what if you would have given it everything you had and went for that last one? That’s what’s kept me hungry these last four years, for sure.”
And now that he is on the cusp of a new decade, it seems as if everyone wants to ask him how he’s still doing it. “If that’s the big story — how am I doing it while I’m this old, well then I might just stick around longer,” he laughed.