First steps towards ‘Best in the World’ |

First steps towards ‘Best in the World’

Tom Kelly

Park Record columnist

"Always put more into your sport than you hope to get out." That was the message Olympic medalist and X Games champion Lindsey Jacobellis conveyed last Friday night at the USSA Center of Excellence.

More than two dozen athletes came to Park City last week, wide-eyed and full of enthusiasm. Each of them got the call this spring they had made the national team. Now it was time to step up to the big time at Rookie Camp 2013.

The four-day Rookie Camp has been a staple for every new U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association national team member for nearly a decade. It’s a boot camp, of sorts, putting athletes into classrooms to learn, the gym to become strong, and the National Ability Center ropes course to build team. And it’s a way to meet new friends.

Jacobellis’ message resonated among the athletes, who ranged in age from 13 to 23. They heard it time and time again throughout the camp from stars like Marco Sullivan, Devin Logan and Dylan Ferguson.

In athletic chief Luke Bodensteiner’s opening keynote, he asked the rookies about what the USSA meant to them. "Opportunity," they said. They were there to learn and to follow their role models.

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It can be a daunting experience. As a "Best in the World" athletic program with 17 athletes winning 21 Olympic medals in Vancouver it’s a bit of a scary proposition to start lifting weights on the Center of Excellence training floor with the likes of Ted Ligety beside you. But that’s why they came.

"There is no second place on the battlefield," said Staff Sergeant Dan Gilyeat of Kansas, who lost a leg in battle and was there to speak as a part of the Semper Pro tour. He made an impression, to say the least.

"Olympism means a huge opportunity for me," said Indiana slopestyle skier Nick Goepper, a rookie of sorts but already with a couple X Games medals.

The camp also had its share of younger rookies, including 13-year-old snowboarders Chloe Kim and Maddie Mastreo. When asked for their role models, they quickly responded with the names of Olympic champion Kelly Clark and X Games medalist Arielle Gold. Ironically, Arielle then barely 16 was sitting in the same Rookie Camp just a year ago.

While most rookies took a break from summer training at home, newcomer Ryan Stassel, 18, took a quick holiday from work. The conversation with his boss was short. Stassel, an Alaskan native, runs his own fishing boat, employing friends to help him haul in salmon. It was a quick trip from Anchorage to Park City, then back to Alaska to haul in some fish.

Rookie Camp was the coming-out party for a host of athletes including Wisconsin native and now freestyle aerialist Kendal Johnson. Johnson saw aerials on NBC during the Vancouver Olympics when he was 19. Despite never skiing in his life, he was hooked. And after three seasons in the Park City-based FLY Freestyle program, he’s on the national team.

There was a special pride across the group for having made the team and having their eyes focused on the future.

"It’s a real privilege to make the team. With that honor goes special status, and with that goes special responsibility," said USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt, addressing the group. "You’re moving into leadership roles where people look to you as a role model. Our goal is to be Best in the World. We set that goal a long time ago and a lot of people said it couldn’t be done. But we stayed focused, and we accomplished it. You are the athletes we’re looking to carry the banner to the future."

One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.