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“ONE YEAR LEASE” an interview with NATE HOLLAND
Interviewed and written by AAS Executive Director Daniel Gale
|Nate Holland/Winter X 14/Eric Bakke/Shazamm/ESPN Images|
As snowboarders, the drive to go fast and take risks is in all of us, some more than others. Some of us fill the need by challenging ourselves in the park, in the steeps or even in the backcountry. Still others fill the need by challenging other boarders: “Who can get down the mountain the fastest?” If you ask Nate Holland who’ll be first down, he’ll tell you: “I have to believe it’s me.” And, I’d believe him.
With an undeniably awesome “rap-sheet” of winning, Nate is unarguably one of the best Boardercross athletes in the world. A five-time back-to-back X Games Gold Medalist, he clearly knows how to get down the course quick . . . fast . . . in a hurry.
Last winter, I got to talk over a beer with Nate right after he raced in the Boarder X Finals at Winter X Games 15 and I quickly realized that -- although he’s a beast on the course -- he embodies every character trait that a proud mother would wish to instill upon a son. He’s giving, cares about family, supports his fellow US teammates, he’s passionate and, unlike many pro athletes, is very accessible. As Nate sipped his drink in Buttermilk Lodge, all smiles and stories with fellow racer Shaun Palmer (as if they just hadn’t finished racing the biggest, nastiest course in the world), it also occurred to me that Nate simply loves snowboarding.
But enough about what I think, let’s hear from the man himself.
Daniel: You are one of, if not the, most “winning” boardercross riders in the world? What is it about action sports that appeals to you? And, why snowboarding?
Nate: As a kid, I played more traditional sports. I always started on the team, but I wasn’t the star. When I won my first snowboard event at age 12, I was hooked. I recognized my talent. Snowboarding is a little more lax than traditional sports. It’s not so structured; and I don’t need a team to challenge me. Instead, I get out there and push myself against myself and that’s when progression happens. It amazes me and humbles me to still be learning new techniques.
Snowboarding? I like the spontaneity of snowboarding. As a snowboarder, I can go out any afternoon and get some kicks though I gotta admit that being an Olympic Team member makes the sport more regimented. But, I still occasionally get the joy of deciding to do something at the last minute. Last year, for example, a couple of us decided at the last minute to go to Austria for the World Cup. It brought me back to my early snowboarding years. Only this time, instead of jumping in the car, we jumped on a plane.
Daniel: What’s the scariest moment you’ve had in your racing career?
Nate: Racing in boardercross, we have close calls every day. I’ve taken my share of tumbles and each is scary. I think they look worse than they are though . . . especially ‘cause, when I take a tumble, it’s when when I’m smoking down the course. But, I think I’ve numbed up to the fear. I’ve learned how to fall and I stay pretty focused on getting out of the situation. The real scares come when you’re watching someone else fall in front of you. You’ve got no control of that situation; where they may end up, if you’ll hit em and you just feel bad watching them crash. It’s what we do though.
Daniel: Do you still get butterflies in your stomach before a race?
Nate: I get nervous before any race, but I try to use that energy to get a little edge. My results reflect that: the bigger the race, the more nervous I am, and – with the exception of little bobbles here and there -- I seem to do best under pressure.”
Daniel: Adaptive Action Sports athletes, like spokes athletes Amy Purdy and Evan Strong, have to “adapt” just to participate in action sports. We’ve found that, with the right amount of forethought, anything can be accomplished. Have you ever faced situations in snowboarding when you had to adapt to physical challenge? And, do you have any residual effects from injuries you’ve had over the years?
Nate: I broke my left ankle in 2005. I was in a cast for six weeks, but it was two years before I was comfortable. My first time back on the snow after my injury, I was getting tons of toe side chatter at full speed. I adapted my bindings from two to three straps and that helped a bit. Finally, the pain subsided, but I don’t have the range of motion in my left that I have in my right foot. And, yeah, my style had to adapt.
Then in the last two X Games, I rode with bruised heels: nothing broken, just pain. But, you get in the mindset that a race like that only comes once a year. You just suck it up and go for it.
Daniel: Even though snowboarding is not a team sport per se, snowboarders still rely on a support system. How important is your support team to you? And, how important is it to pull knowledge from others who have experience?
Nate: I’ve been on the US Olympic Team for six or seven years now with the same coach, physical therapists and technicians. I’ve really learned to trust and rely on them and they’ve worked wonders for me.
I rely on my teammates, too. It makes me feel good knowing that I am surrounded with some of the best snowboarders in the world. Even when three or four of them are having a bad day, there’s still at least one showing World Cup speed. It’s a good way to gauge where your own riding level is at and what you have to do to get in top shape. At every training camp, I’m pounding the ground with the likes of Seth Westcott and Shaun Palmer. . . . Taking the heroes on in practice helps to elevate your own performance level. The challenge is always to be the best in the world.
Daniel: Last time we saw each other was last year at Winter X Games just after your race. We talked a little about AAS’ work with disabled youth and veterans. You mentioned to me that you’ve done some work with US troops. Can you tell us a bit about that?
|Nate Holland and Danny Kass visit soldiers in the hospital in Afghanistan on an X Games themed tour to visit U.S. Troops. (Photo courtesy of Nate Holland)|
Nate: I did two ten-day tours, one in 2008 to Afghanistan and one, in 2009, to Iraq. The idea was to bring the X Games to the troops. The conditions the troops face are brutal. Not once did I hear anyone complain. At one point, it was 130 degrees. I was in a t-shirt and shorts. They were in full fatiques with bullet proof vests. It was a real eye-opener. A couple nights we had to leave our bunks to go to shelters. Rockets coming in. Intense. One hell of an experience. Those guys put it on the line all of the time. The sacrifice that those men and women are making is huge. They’ve got my respect for sure.
Daniel: Are you planning to compete at the Winter X Games this year, and is the Olympic team a goal for you in 2014?
Nate: Absolutely, to both. My primary goal this winter is to reclaim gold at the X Games. I tell people that I only put a one year lease out on the gold medal. I’m coming back to get it. I know how to win that race and I know how to get back on that top step.
I’m going to compete hard for the 2014 Olympics, too. Olympic gold is the one medal that has eluded me. At Vancouver, once I started battling Robbins, I realized I wasn’t going to pass him on the upper course. I could have stepped back in my battle and insured myself silver or bronze. But I wanted gold. I knew I could pass him on the long straight sections; that’s where I’m strongest. Unfortunately, I got in a little rut, my base went flat and I slid out. But I’m proud that when I went down, I was going for gold.
Daniel: You’ve been in the sport a long time. How does your age and experience play into your career at this point?
Nate: It’s true I’m not getting any younger. Every year, it takes a little more effort. I’ll be 33 on November 8. But, in boardercross, there is definitely something to be said for experience. Palmer is 10 years older than me. Westcott’s got a couple of years on me. But, we’re all still racking up podium time.
One race, I ran an inspection lap on the course then went down to watch some of the younger guys navigate a couple of the sketchy spots. The course was a bunch of nasty jumps to flat. Maybe one jump was to a good transition. So it seemed like, why hurt myself practicing? I was only down there 15 seconds, observing, when Westcott rolls up, laughing. We watched together and made mental notes: where to scrub speed, what speed to carry into the jumps, all of it. Because of our experience we were able to do that and make it work. We took our two practice runs, just before the race, and that was it. Both of us were on the podium: him silver, me bronze. We didn’t have to beat ourselves up practicing. With age, comes experience.
|Wakesurfing/Idaho/Action Water Sports|
Daniel: What are your summers like when you know you’ll be competing in such heavy contests and going for a spot on the Olympic team? How important is summer training?
Nate: I’m into three months of fall training in Utah. Last summer, I spent time in Idaho with water sports. My brother and I got a wakeboard/waterskiing school and boat tour company in Idaho. There’s a reason that we own all those toys: we love to play and sharing the stoke factor with other people is really cool. AAS might want to bring an adaptive posse up there next summer. It’d be killer.
Daniel: Seal it, stamp it and deliver it! We’re in. See you in Idaho.
Daniel: As you know, achieving Paralympic status for “adaptive” snowboarding is one of AAS’ primary goals. We’ve been working hard to do our part to assure that it happens. Just to take a quick second to catch you up: one huge component in our plan is this season’s upcoming ASX (Adaptive Snowboarder X) Championship Series, presented by AAS. This is a signature series of open competitions for permanently disabled intermediate and advanced snowboarders. The really great thing about this five-event series (including an invite-only stop at X Games) is that it will provide adaptive riders their first opportunity to compete for cash purses.
Nate: Man, that sounds great.
Daniel: Yeah, for sure, we are working hard to do our part. With the exception of the X Games stop, all of the competitions are preceded by a four-day Learn to Ride and Race training camp. This gives campers, who feel they are ready, to sign-up to compete in the open races along with riders coming just for the race.
My question here is two part: first, what do you think about having “adaptive snowboarding“ in the Paralympics? And, second, what do you think about our ASX series?
Nate: As to the Paralympics, for sure, I absolutely back snowboarding as a Paralympic sport, 100 percent. It makes absolute sense. Last year, I watched the monoskiiers at the X Games. They lay it on the line, charge, and don’t hold back. Yeah, the adaptive athletes are, in my mind, the baddest athletes at X Games. They’re just animals.
And, concerning your ASX series, I think it’s great. It’s important to provide that pipeline. All I can say is “Just keep at it!” My schedule this winter might put me in the vicinity of some of your training camps and races. If it does, I’d be happy to share some boardercross tips with your ASX participants. I’d love to give you guys all the tips I have. I’m not going to bullshit you that I know everything, but I have paid attention and I’ve got some good training exercises I can share. And, I can always offer encouragement. Perseverance is the key. For me, being a professional snowboarder was a dream of mine. After I racked up a pretty big credit card bill (it’s not a cheap sport), my parents said: “Put this dream to bed and come home. Regroup.” That season, I won my first grand prix. The rest is history. The hardship just makes for a better story in the end.
Daniel: So what’s on deck now for Nate Holland?
Nate: Till Thanksgiving, I’m in Utah doing dry land training. Then, I head to Colorado in early December to start snow training. Then, the first World Cup in Telluride in December followed by the X Games and the full World Cup circuit. I got a new race technique that I learned this season at Mt. Hood.
Daniel: Oh yeah? What is it?
Nate: I can’t say man, but just look for me being on the podium more often. And, I’d love to come down and watch the ASX races. We’ll make some time for the gym and I’ll go over a couple of key exercises that I think might be useful to your riders.
|Nate collects gold at the 2010 X Games, Seth Wescott left for silver and Alverto Schiavon on right took bronze/Eric Bakke/ESPN Images|
Daniel: Good deal Nate. Thanks for the time.
Nate: No doubt, Dan, talk soon……