As the final winter season closes before another Winter Olympics, the time is now to begin final preparations to make a run at the top step of the podium. One of those snowboarders looking to get on the top step is Spencer O’Brien.
A five time medalist (one gold, one silver, three bronze) at the Winter X Games and one of only few Olympians coming from Canadian First Nations, O’Brien has been credited as one of the world’s top female snowboarders. In 2012 O’Brien was also named the top female on the World Snowboard Tour.
A few weeks before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, O’Brien was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
After some ups and downs following the diagnosis, O’Brien is back and is seen as an Olympic podium prospect for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Tyler Tate of T Squared Action Sports sat down with O’Brien to talk Olympics, rheumatoid arthritis and more in this edition of BNQT Inside Access.
Tate: Spencer you have had a long career and now as your prepare for another Olympics, how has your perspective changed?
O’Brien: At times I sit back and look back at the length of my career. I have been in 10 X Games and 13 U.S. Opens’. To me it is crazy to be in double digits in competition. It has brought about a lot of perspective that has helped me in the past few years since my diagnosis. This season, I struggled in the beginning to get my feet underneath me. I had the freak accident at the X Games and other things just contributed to it being a strange season. But all of that experience I have gained through the years, helps to get you through the difficult times and it helped me get myself together for the U.S. Open. (O’Brien placed third overall)
Tate: Looking forward to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, you got to be a part of one of the test events. How is the venue?
O’Brien: Back in November of 2016, I went over to South Korea for the test event in the Big Air contest. There still was not a lot of snow so it was weird to be there without the snow but the venue is amazing. The culture over there is warm and welcoming and they put on a great contest. The jump for big air is half scaffolding and half snow as they built it into a former ski jumping hill. At the base though the crowd is right there at the bottom so it literally feels like you are jumping into the crowd.
Tate: How has your life changed for the better since the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis?
O’Brien: It is never easy to hear a doctor tell you that you have something wrong that may affect your life and the passions that you have in life, so when I first got the diagnosis it was tough. It took over a year to officially diagnose me and through that year, it felt like a long road with no end in sight. In competition there is always a finish line that you can see and it allows you to charge hard and aim for that finish line. With this, I could not see the finish line and that was difficult.
It was a very difficult thing to diagnose. Other injuries that I would suffer would mask it and often times we would just attribute it to the other injuries so it took some time to really get to the root issues.
Once I got the diagnosis, it was a relief. Not that I was magically healed, but it allowed me to game plan. I was feeling so very old physically and yet I was only 25.
Now that I have the diagnosis and a game plan, it has allowed me to get back to form, feel healthy and begin competition at the level I expect for myself.
Tate: The medication that is prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis is an immune suppressant, so while it helps with your body’s inflammatory response, it also makes you more susceptible to infection, which means she can get sick easily.
O’Brien: Yes that’s correct, but I have been lucky so far and I haven’t suffered any hard side effects that can present themselves from the medication. I have become very cautious with the environment I put myself in and I definitely watch my surroundings constantly. You begin to live healthier whether you are actively thinking that or not. Your body constantly adapts to put itself in the best position for a healthy life.
Tate: Looking Forward to 2018 and beyond what are your goals and plans as your career in competition is as you have said “In its’ closing days”?
O’Brien: I would love nothing more than to get a 2018 Olympic medal. I have new runs and new tricks that I also want to accomplish in the upcoming season and I feel that if I achieve those goals in the runs I want to do it will lead to the podium.
As the end of the competition days get closer, I look forward to the transition to the backcountry. Not many people get to say that their passion in life is also their career, so I consider myself really fortunate that I get to make a career out of snowboarding. I have had a longer career than I would have ever guessed, I am a lucky person.
The thought of what’s next is always a scary thought. Uncertainty is one of the worst feelings to have in life. One day I may have to get a different job, but what matters is can you find a passion in what you choose to do in life. For me, that is how I lead my life every day. Find a passion to bring about the best part of you and work towards making that passion meet your goals on a daily basis.