Sibling Snowboarders Hope To Reach Olympics At The Same Time
Patty Gold may be the loudest spectator at the bottom of the half-pipe, with her cheers, gasps and the yelling of her children's names. She mostly stands perfectly still with her hands clasped to her face, waiting for scores, safe landings, and possibly medals.
Patty and her husband, Ken, are at the Copper Mountain Grand Prix, about two hours west of Denver, on a very cold, snowy December night. Copper Mountain is one of five qualifying events for the U.S. snowboarding team, and a spot in the Winter Olympics. The Golds' two children, 17-year-old Arielle and 20-year-old Taylor, are both competing in the event, in the women's and men's snowboard half-pipe — they have both been having amazing seasons.
At Copper Mountain, Patty and Ken Gold are like any other parents of athletes during their children's competition — absolutely frantic.
"I usually have an upset stomach the day of the competition," Patty says. "No matter if it's qualifiers or finals; it's hard for me to watch. But I want to be there to support them, so I go."
Tonight, she says she had a glass of wine before the event started to help with her nerves. Ken Gold refuses to actually watch near his wife when their children compete; he moves too much. He's a pacer, a clapper, and emitter of many phrases like "Come on!" and "Get it!"
At the end of the night, Taylor wins first in men's; Arielle, second for the women. It was one step closer, for each of them, to Sochi. On Friday, Taylor clinched his spot on the team.
The medals they won at Copper Mountain were just two more for two already well-accomplished athletes: Arielle won the 2013 FIS World Snowboarding Championships in snowboard half-pipe; Taylor won a silver medal in half-pipe at the 2011 Junior World Championships.
Imagine being the parents of these two. Having one child athlete is hard enough. Having two, in the same sport, with a shot at the Olympics at the same time makes parenting them a career.
Father Ken Gold videotapes every single one of their practices. The family moves across Colorado to Breckenridge from Steamboat Springs for five months every year, just to be closer to competitions. Arielle and Taylor chase winter all around the world.
"They are on snow all winter," Ken says. "They have a brief hiatus in the spring. Then they go to Mammoth, Calif., where there's still snow in May; then they go to Mount Hood [Ore.] for a month in mid-summer; and then they go to New Zealand for a month in the end of the summer, where it's winter in the other hemisphere. So, they're on snow, you know, 10, sometimes more, months a year."
On top of almost constantly training, the Gold family has to make preparations for Sochi, fully understanding that they haven't actually made it yet.
"We actually had to start making arrangements, because you have to get a visa. You have to get it, I think 45 days, out," Patty says. "So we have our plane tickets, and we have our accommodations. We did buy insurance. But we're hoping that we go. And we hope that both of them are on the team."
The day after their big wins at Copper Mountain, Arielle and Taylor are trying to figure out what to do with the prize money they've been raking in recently. It's customary in the snowboarding world for winners to share a bit of their take buying drinks for all their friends and fellow snowboarders. But Arielle and Taylor are both under 21 — they can't legally drink, so a nice dinner will have to do.
Sitting around watching the Broncos game in sweatpants, sweatshirts and thick socks, Taylor, Arielle and friends at their house in Breckenridge, Colo., try to figure out who should make the invite list. Their parents look on. Arielle bounces back and forth between an online calculus final and Googling restaurant phone numbers. Taylor and his friends are watching some Key & Peele comedy videos on YouTube.
If they're under any pressure, it doesn't show, maybe because snowboarding has been a constant for them for so long.
'Pushing The Rest Of The Sport'
"I started when I was 7," Taylor says. "And [Arielle] started when she was 7."
Taylor actually remembers the exact moment he knew he wanted to be a snowboarder.
"I watched the Olympics in 2002. And I saw, you know, the men sweep the podium that year. And I was like, 'Oh my God, that looks so fun.' So, that year I asked my parents if I could take some snowboarding lessons, and it kind of just, like, snowballed from there. No pun intended."
Arielle, on the other hand, took a bit longer. "For me I'd say things didn't really start to get serious until probably two years ago. That's when I kind of started to realize that I could make something out of this, and I guess potentially go to the Olympics."
Arielle got really good, really fast, and last season, ended up doing much better than Taylor, in spite of coaching from Taylor on occasion.
"He didn't have quite the season he deserved to have," Arielle says. "I think that's when we both kind of struggled a little bit. Last year, I had some good results, but I hadn't been as dedicated to snowboard for as long as he has. I kinda just started to get into it and was just starting to really put in the work, whereas he's been putting the work ever since he started."
Taylor says he's fine with it all. It just made him work harder:
"I just wanted to get to that same level," he says. "I was really excited for her, but, I mean, super jealous."
Whatever jealousy might have existed between the two, Alyssa Roenigk, a senior writer at ESPN, says the two traits you constantly see now in Arielle and Taylor are humility and focus.
"If you happened to hop on the chairlift with either of them, you would never know that they're two of the best snowboarders in the world," Roenigk says. "They're very similar. They're both quiet. They're extremely humble and just really fantastic snowboarders and have just grown up pushing themselves. And now they are pushing the rest of the sport in the way that they pushed each other growing up."
Roenigk says siblings competing in the same sport isn't too uncommon, but two siblings doing this well in the same year is very out of the ordinary. She says it will be important for the two of them to stay focused and grounded over the next few months, because all of this will be new to them.
"I think that they both seem to have their heads on really straight in a really, really stressful time that they haven't experienced before," Roenigk says. "A lot of these other men and women have gone through an Olympic qualifier before. They haven't, and it is so impressive to me how grounded they have been through it so far."
Life After Snowboarding?
Whatever happens with Sochi, the Gold family's life will most likely change soon. There's talk of Taylor going off to college, something he's put off for a few years to compete. And Arielle will soon be 18 and done with high school.
Parents Patty and Ken say they are fine seeing the day when snowboarding isn't everything. They say their family was never just about one sport anyway.
"We've never made them do it," Ken says. "They do it because they love it and they're passionate about it. I love being the parent of great athletes, but I even more value being the parents of great people."
As for life after snowboarding? Ken and Patty say they could see themselves splitting their time between Colorado and a much warmer climate, doing more kiteboarding — one sport you don't do in cold weather.