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Finland World Cup Event Means Hometown Racing For Mike Minor

By Paul D. Bowker | Jan. 12, 2023, 5:41 p.m. (ET)

Mike Minor competes at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. (Photo: Mark Reis)

The Pyha Ski Resort in Finland has become a familiar venue for Mike Minor.


When the two-time Paralympic medalist races down the snowboardcross course at this weekend’s world cup event there, he’ll immediately recognize a face in the spectator area at the bottom of the hill.


It’ll be his Finnish fiancée, Virpi Jumisko.


“She’ll probably be holding the dog at the bottom of the course,” Minor said with a smile during a dark morning this week from a hotel in Pyhatunturi, Finland, where the U.S. Para snowboarding team is residing for its competition.


The venue for the competition Friday and Saturday is the perfect place for Minor, a new resident of Finland who still competes for the U.S. He won gold and bronze medals at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, then recorded two top-11 finishes for Team USA last year in Beijing.


A few months before the Frisco, Colorado, native competed in PyeongChang, he met his future fiancée in Pyhatunturi. They met in the parking lot at Pyha Ski Resort, just a snowball’s throw from the hotel.


“It was our first time ever racing at Pyhatunturi when I met her,” Minor said.


They had their first date in Pyhatunturi. Eight months later, at the bottom of the racecourse at Pyha, Minor asked Virpi to marry him. They’re now engaged to be married.


Virpi will be in attendance when this year’s world cup competition starts. She’ll be there with her parents, who live just 20 minutes away from the resort, and her and Minor’s dog, Dinky.


This is more than a snowboarder finding love at a Finland ski and snowboarding resort. It’s a tale of a snowboarder finding love at the time he most needed it.


“I really truly believe, as cliché or as stupid as it sounds, she was put into my life to save me,” said Minor, 32, an athlete in the UL classification. “I was on a straight destruction path.


“She really is a blessing. She’s a great woman,” Minor added. “She’s so patient with everything that I do. She’s strong, she’s beautiful. She’s everything that I could ask for and more because she is like my rock when it comes to everything that I’m doing, which is not easy to do. This lifestyle that we uphold as professional athletes, it’s demanding on everyone involved.”


Evan Strong, Minor’s teammate and closest friend, noticed the connection quickly.


“He actually told me the first day he met her: ‘You need to marry her,’” Minor said.


Since the couple first met in 2017, the U.S. Para snowboarding team has competed at Pyha every season.


“It’s great,” Minor said. “I love racing here. It’s a special place. Finland is magical in its own way. Even though it’s dark and it’s cold here, it’s beautiful.”


Pyhatunturi is so far north in the Lapland area of Finland that it’s actually northwest of Santa Claus Village, an amusement park in Rovaniemi, Finland.


“I can’t really describe it,” Minor said. “It’s just the feeling you get when you’re here in the winter, it’s almost like you really are where Santa Claus is from. Christmas is truly a vibe here. It’s indescribable.”


In September, Minor packed up his belongings in Colorado and moved to Oulu, Finland, a mid-sized coastal city off the Gulf of Bothnia that is east of Sweden. In four years, he can apply for citizenship.


Racing at Pyha this weekend brings Minor home in the midst of a busy winter schedule that will also include skateboarding in Spain for the next two weeks once the world cup is done. He is coming off a world cup competition at Big White in Canada, where he won gold and silver medals in banked slalom.


Although Minor isn’t yet fluent in Finnish, he knows the grocery stores enough now to help his U.S. teammates around.


“To now call Finland my home, that’s even more special,” Minor said. “The people are great. It’s great seeing my friends being here. I have sort of a sense of pride, if you will, racing here at this event because it’s almost like I’m on two home fronts. An extremely special feeling.”


Now that Minor is a resident of Finland, he knows about the darkness of a winter’s day. He may be ahead of the other athletes in that way because he remembers what it was like during his first trips inside the Arctic Circle.


“I really felt like I was going crazy, literally insane, from the darkness,” he said. “You don’t see the sun. You have crazy mood swings. You’re negative. You’re irritable. There’s a ton of different things that happen.”


But now? Not a problem.


“That’s kind of why I like living here because it allows me to be in it all the time,” Minor said. “I’m dealing with it a little more so I know how to deal with it. … You just learn how to cope with it a little bit better.”


There’ll be no mood swings this week. Minor is home. His dog is with him in a hotel room. Virpi, an aesthetician working in skin care, will watch Minor in action. Afterwards, they’ll get together with her parents for dinner at the mountain.


“It’ll be really nice to spend some time with her,” Minor said. “She gets to watch me sometimes race, but she doesn’t always get to watch me race.”

Paul D. Bowker

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSnowboarding.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.