It's a nice problem to have: When you achieve your lifelong goal, what do you do next?
That's the question Spencer O'Brien has been wrestling with. Earlier this year the 28-year-old British Columbian found herself atop the snowboard world with a slopestyle gold medal at the Winter X Games in Aspen, a moment she had dreamed about for years.
But in life there is always another mountain to climb -- or, in O'Brien's case, another slope to shred. She sat down to talk about her rise to fame, her recent surgery -- and another gigantic goal that looms on the horizon, competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Chris Taylor: When you were a kid growing up in B.C., did you ever imagine yourself on a podium holding a gold medal?
Spencer O'Brien: Not at all. Snowboarding was always a fun activity my family did on the weekends, but I never thought I was especially good at it. But then I started following my older sister to competitions around the province, and things started to fall into place. By the time I was 14 or 15, I was taking it more seriously. I started thinking outside the box, that this could actually be a career for me.
CT: What was the moment you realized that was the future you wanted?
SO: Back when I was in grade nine, somehow we got the X Games playing on a TV in the school hallway. I'm not quite sure how we managed to do that. But I remember watching the women's slopestyle event, and thinking to myself that I wanted to do that, and be there with all those cool women. I felt I could be up there, too.
CT: What has been the high point of your career so far?
SO: I can't believe snowboarding has been my career for over 10 years already. It's pretty crazy to think about. But the X Games this year was a big highlight, as was getting gold at the World Championships in 2012. At that time I was injured, and I had to push through a lot of obstacles just to be able to compete. For me to put down the run that I did, it was a special moment.
CT: How about your low points along the way?
SO: One of the lowest ones was before the last Olympics, when I had some health issues. That was a really tough time for me, but I just had to dig deep and continue on. I made the finals, which I was happy about -- but I wanted to come home with a medal, and I didn't. That's just the reality of the sport. The Olympics only come around once every four years, and if you're not on your game for those 30 seconds, then it can be very disappointing.
CT: You recently had foot surgery -- how do it go, and what's next for you?
SO: It was small elective surgery to deal with a bone spur. It had been bothering me a bit, so I wanted to deal with it in the offseason rather than having it flare up later on. Now I'm back on my feet, and will resume training soon, so it didn't take me out for too long. Then I'm off to train in the southern hemisphere for a while, where it's winter right now, before the major riding season starts again in December.
This year will be a lot of qualifying events, as well as the usual ones on the docket like the X Games and the U.S. Open. Also "Big Air" is a new discipline that's being introduced for the Winter Olympics in South Korea, so I want to get some of those events under my belt, and hopefully medal in a few.
CT: You are proud of your First Nations heritage -- how has that influenced you along the way?
SO: I love the sport, and I especially love sharing it with people who don't normally have access to it. My heritage is Haida and Kwakwakw'wakw, so I put an emphasis on bringing the sport to First Nations kids. Sometimes that's all kids need, is a role model and an opportunity. So I do a lot of public speaking, I work with Nike and their program to give a portion of sales to aboriginal communities, and I donate my used gear to native snowboarders in Vancouver.
CT: What would you say to a young First Nations kid who looks up to you?
SO: I always like to say that it doesn't matter where you come from in life. Sometimes kids are told that because of where they're from, or what culture they were brought up in, they have less of a chance of succeeding. I don't believe that's true. I've seen so many people come from places with few opportunities, and do some amazing things. Kids just need to be shown that it's possible.
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