Q&A with Michigan Native Olympian Nick Baumgartner
Today, native Michigander and Olympic snowboarder Nick Baumgartner answers our questions about snowboarding in Michigan and training for the Olympics!
Q: How did you get started in snowboarding?
A: Growing up in Iron River in the Upper Peninsula, it would get super cold in the winter months. I was taught to find fun activities to do no matter how cold it was, plus I was always trying to keep up with my older brothers who I looked up to immensely. I had to do whatever they were doing and hyperactivity kept us going all day. Before we started snowboarding, my brothers, sister, and I spent most of our time in the winters at the sledding hill behind my parents house. For Christmas of 1990, my brothers, Josh and Beau, and I asked Santa for snowboards. Josh was the first to open his board on Christmas morning and what an awesome sight it was! It was a Black Snow "The Edge" with metal edges and worthy to shred on real ski hills. Beau and I received hot pink, plastic "Mogul Monster" snowboards that were only allowed on the sledding hill out back. I made it a mission of mine from that day on to prove to Santa that I was worthy of metal edges. I now ride one of the fastest boards in the world, a Carbon Fiber Oxess Snowboard, but it all started that Christmas morning on a sledding hill basically using a glorified sled with bindings. Huge thanks to my brother Josh for being one of the pioneers of snowboarding in the UP and pushing me to become the Olympic snowboarder that I am today.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your career in snowboarding.
A: My snowboard has taken me on one heck of a journey. At the beginning I had to fight tooth and nail to earn each and every opportunity. I didn't know any pro snowboarders or anyone that could help direct me on the correct path so I took it on myself to create my own opportunities and make the most of them.
I have been a member of the US Snowboarding A Team since 2007. Being on the A Team has allowed me to continue chasing my dream, because as a single father, finding funding for my season is always crucial. When I started pursuing this dream, my goal was to receive an invite to the Winter X Games. The X Games was the biggest venue snowboarding had to offer. Once I accomplished that goal in 2005, I immediately made a new goal to win the X Games. This journey to X Games Gold would span 6 years, take me to nearly 20 counties, 2 national championships, 1 Olympic Games, 2 World Cup Titles, a World Championship Bronze, 15 screws and a titanium plate just 12 days before winning and holding my 6 year old son Landon over my head in front of the whole world! Seeing all my hard work and determination pay off made all the sacrifices I made so worth it.
Q: Have you done any of your training in Michigan? If so, where?
A: I choose to do most of my training here in Michigan. Most of my team moves out to Park City, Utah and trains at the Center of Excellence which is home to both the US Ski & Snowboard Teams. This facility is one of the best training gyms in the world, but it's not home. Training to me isn't just about weights and cardio, you also have to have your head right. In order for me to be able to compete at my peak level I need to be physically fit just as much as I need to be mentally fit. Being home with my family, my son Landon, our dog, and using the beautiful backdrop that is Pure Michigan as my training facility is the perfect combination. In the summer, training consists of many miles of running, swimming with my dog Oakley, kayaking with Landon, exploring the U.P. and enjoying life to the fullest. When it comes to traditional conditioning--sprints, running stairs, hitting the weights and making sure I am in the best shape I can be-- I head back to my old high school and train with some of the local kids from the West Iron County High School Football team. This is awesome, not only for me, but for them as well. They look up to me and by trying to keep up they can push themselves to be the best they can be. This gives me an opportunity to help these kids reach their full potential. I know they get a lot of inspiration from me and I love that- it fuels me. One thing I can't stress enough is that they give me the inspiration I need in return. Regardless of whether or not I am standing on top of that Olympic podium in February, the football boys that conditioned with me will have played a huge roll in my preparation. Training in Michigan is the best way for me to be fully prepared physically and mentally.
Q: Where is your favorite place to hit the slopes in Michigan?
A: When I am home in the U.P. I love hitting up Ski Brule right here in my home town of Iron River. Ski Brule is where I first rode a snowboard with metal edges and it's only 7 miles from my house. Without growing up next to such a great place like Brule I would never have gotten where I am today and for that I am so fortunate. In the lower Peninsula, I would have to say Boyne Mountain because there are so many things to do on and off the slopes. I may meet the age requirement of an adult but I'm just a giant kid and being able to Snowboard, zip line, ride a standing wave, hit the water slides and so much more all in one day is pretty sweet.
Q: What do you love about winter in Michigan?
A: I love just about everything in Michigan all the time. Hunting, ice fishing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding...the list could go on forever. Michigan is a winter paradise--there's so much to do as long as you aren't afraid of a little snow and a little cold. I love the people here- even when it's below zero people will give you the shirts off their backs and I couldn't imagine a better place to raise my son.
Q: What was your favorite thing about growing up in the UP?
A: Being able to grow up in the outdoors was so awesome. Everyday for us was an adventure, whether we were hunting for food, hunting for treasures, building forts in the woods, riding bikes in the neighborhood, or playing Kick the Can at night, my friends and I always had something to do. I think we got to do a lot more than most kids in the world since Iron River is a safe place and the people in the community are so kind. The U.P. gives you so many more options than other places when it comes to doing something active and fun. If you love the outdoors you will never be bored. It is definitely a small community up here, but whether something good or bad happens, everyone rallies together to provide as much support as possible.
Q: What is the most exciting part about being an Olympic athlete?
A: For me the coolest part about being an Olympic athlete is that it gives me an opportunity to use my story to help inspire others. Kids are our future, and I know that with my personal experiences I can show kids to DREAM BIG, because with some hard work anything is possible and no goal is too lofty. I also love sharing my journey with as many people as I can; I know I am very fortunate and want to give back the best ways that I can. Being able to travel is also pretty sweet. I love being able to see how people all over the world live- it definitely gives me a different perspective on life. With all the travel however, the best part of every trip will always be coming home to the U.P. and to my boy.
Q: What advice would you give to any beginning snowboarders out there?
A: Anyone that is new to snowboarding should know that the first few days can be tough, but with a little hard work you will learn very fast. Snowboarding has a steep learning curve, so within 3 days you can go from a complete beginner to an intermediate snowboarder who can keep up with your friends. I have been snowboarding for 17 years and some days I wish I could go back and have that first day all over again. I love watching people learning to snowboard because even when they are having a rough time they are having so much fun. Whatever you decide to do, I urge you to eat healthy, be active, and dream big. If we take care of our bodies and stay active, we give ourselves the best chance to stay healthy and fully enjoy life. Life can be so much fun; try to smile yourself and try to make someone else smile everyday. It's amazing how a nice gesture can help someone, because you never know what that person may be going through.
Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine and like me on Facebook. I want to share my experiences with as many people as I can. When I check my social media and see all the support and kind words, it really motivates me- I read every single comment. When things aren't going perfect, everyone's kind words help to lift me up and keep me charging forward. I have some of the best supporters in the world, and more support would never be a bad thing. I will do everything I can to bring an Olympic Gold back to Michigan, but I promise to represent the USA, Michigan, the UP, my family and all my fans the best that I can. My Name is Nick Baumgartner and I am PURE MICHIGAN!
Wishing Nick the best of luck as he competes in the Winter Olympics in Sochi this February! Will you tune in to the 2014 Winter Olympics?