Snowboarder Shaun White: Gratitude for the Win

After earning gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, Shaun White was looking forward to snowboarding back to the top of the podium at the 2014 Winter Games. But White came in a disappointing fourth. Now, as he prepares for February’s Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, White writes about how he bounced back from the loss and reconnected with his love for the sport.
Photograph by Gabe L’Heureux

by Shaun White

Snowboarding completely consumes my focus, so it’s a curse and a blessing at the same time. There’s always anxiousness to win and to be the best. And everything else going on in life tends to get pushed aside because of snowboarding, so when you come home you realize, ‘Oh man. I haven’t spoken to this good friend of mine in months.’ There’s a good and bad side to everything, and it wasn’t until after the last Olympics that I saw the bad side of snowboarding.

Sochi was a big loss for me. What always used to happen suddenly didn’t work out as planned. And it wasn’t my physical body that I was concerned about. It was more the mental game. I had just kind of checked out. So afterward I took the time to to get right with myself before getting back on the board.

I focused on other things I like to do but never had the time to—like playing music. I also took the time to just talk, and my family was there for me. I was like, ‘Well, the worst thing I could have imagined happened and I’m still here.’ I just assumed—because of the crazy way I approached things—that the medals and everything I’ve done would be erased by this one monumental loss. But people afterward were like, “No man, you’re a champ. Deal with the ghosts. You’re a hero.” It was a beautiful realization.

Going into this Olympics, my eyes are open and I’m ready for everything. I realized I needed to take my physical training up a notch. It was like, Why not be kind to yourself and start working out on a regular basis? You do feel better about yourself when you work out. You feel accomplished for the day. So that was a big change in my life. And then I switched coaches. I switched business managers. You name it, everything changed around me. And each change led to a more positive state of mind, which has now helped me come back to snowboarding and feel excited again.

Unlike certain traditional sports, with snowboarding you have to be inspired to do it. So when I’m out on the mountain it’s all about creating those circumstances where you can get inspired. You surround yourself with people who motivate you.

So I’m excited for this Olympics—to have that world stage to perform on. There’s so many times where I just stop and I say, “Thank the stars that I get to do what I do.” I mean, literally, the stars will be out during a competition while I’m riding from the chairlift drop-off point down to the halfpipe and it’s just me riding down icy trails on a closed mountain. All I can think about is how amazing the stars are, how amazing it is to be in this situation and maybe I’m in first place and maybe I’m not, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m just happy to be there.