Q&A with David Wise
Reno's David Wise made history in 2014 by becoming the inaugural Olympic gold medalist in men's freeski halfpipe. Now a father of two, he remains a strong contender for an Olympic team berth again in 2018.
Earlier this year, we sent Wise a list of questions. Here's what he had to say.
What's your earliest memory of skiing?
I started skiing so young that I don't even remember the beginning. My earlier memory of skiing as a kid is of a time when I tried to hit a jump and crashed and got snow all down my back. Cold and pain are good memory triggers. I always wanted to be a professional athlete as a kid, it wasn't always skiing that I focused on. I think the combination of speed, airtime, and the fact that it was an individual sport is what drew me to skiing away from football and baseball.
What's your earliest memory of watching the Olympics, and did you imagine yourself competing there one day?
I remember watching the summer and winter Olympics from as early of an age as I have. We would sit down and watch as a family, and I dreamed of competing for the United States as a kid. However, when I switched from moguls to halfpipe, it didn't seem like pipe was going to be an Olympic event, so I had to give up that Olympic dream. To see that dream come full circle and be a part of the first Olympics ever for the sport was an amazing experience.
Best part of living in the Athletes’ Village during the Olympics?
The best part of the Olympics in general is the camaraderie between sports. At the Olympics you are thrown in with sports that you would never normally spend time around, but they are part of Team USA as well. It is really cool to meet people and have someone to root for that you know personally in each sport.
Where do you keep your Olympic medal?
It has a secured case at my house, but it spends a lot of time traveling with me as well. One of the responsibilities I think we have as Olympic champions is sharing the experience with the country that enabled us to get there and those who may someday seek the same goal.
What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
A lot of people are surprised that skiing is my only job, and that it takes as much or more of my time in the offseason as it does in the season. Whenever I tell people that I am a skier, they inevitably ask me how I fill my time in the offseason, like I can only train for skiing by skiing. The reality is that offseason training and strength building is as important as or more important than on-snow training. If you aren't in the absolute best condition you can be in to start the season, the travel and competition grind will break you up into a million pieces. I can't do justice to how lucky I feel to be able to do this as a job, but it takes serious dedication just like anything else worth doing.
How do you work to achieve your daily goals?
Set small goals and large ones. It is important to have dreams, but it is equally important to have stepping stones to get you there.
Have you ever been seriously injured?
I have had a dislocated hip and two left ACL reconstructions. My injuries taught me to be a well-rounded human, as well as a well-rounded athlete. The possibility of career-ending injury looms over us constantly in this sport, and if that were to happen, and you haven't spent the time to foster who you are as a person, who are you going to be without the sport?
What’s something about freeskiing that people don't normally see?
Something cool about our sport is that it is about style just as much as it is about progression or technicality. A rider can gain the respect of the sport just by being unique and original and it doesn't always have to do with doing the most technical or dangerous tricks.
What’s the hardest part of the sport?
The hardest part of the sport is the fine line we walk between what we call the sweet spot and the deck. The best place to land on the halfpipe is the very highest point before the coping, but if you mess up your takeoff at all, it is only a few inches to a potentially catastrophic landing on the deck.
Who are your biggest rivals, and is it friendly or contentious?
Torin Yater-Wallace, Kevin Rolland, Mike Riddle. It's both friendly and contentious, that's what competition is. I'm excited when they ski well and take the sport to another level, but I sure do want to beat them!
Do you have a lucky charm that you can’t train or compete without?
I always wear my lucky American flag boxers.
Do you have another job aside from skiing?
I am a full-time athlete and part-time professional bowhunter. I think balance is the most challenging, and difficult, thing to attain in life and bowhunting is a great way for me to get out into the quiet mountains, away from all the stresses and pressures, and remember who I am.
What athlete, in any sport, has been your greatest source of inspiration?
Michael Jordan. "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Are you from a military family?
Yes, my sister [Christy] is a captain in the U.S. Air Force, a pilot and an amputee. My sister is one of the most influential people in my life and when she joined the service, it took my respect for the armed forces to the next level. I truly believe that if I weren't an athlete, I would be glad to give a few years of my life to the service of our country the way that my sister has.
How has being a parent affected you?
My kids [Nayeli and Malachi] are an important part of keeping me grounded as an athlete. It is easy to get caught up in what you are doing and what is happening in the sport and lose perspective, but at the end of the day, we professional athletes are grownups playing games for a living. It is more important to me to be the best husband and father that I can be, than to win any title or championship. It takes the pressure off and I can just go out and enjoy my craft.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Unicycle riding, juggling, archery, balancing ski poles or broom sticks.
I have a bear with a butterfly on his nose on my shoulder. The bear is looking away from the mountains at the butterfly with a curious look on his face to signify that my wife (the butterfly) was the first one in my life to make me realize that there is more to life than mountains and skiing.
On my left bicep, I have a pinyon pine and the roots go down my forearm. The tree is relatively unassuming, but the roots are big and intricate showing that it isn't always the exterior look that shows the quality of the person. A tree is only as strong as its roots. It is a constant reminder to myself to stay humble and not try to outgrow my foundation and get blown over by the wind.
On the back of my left forearm, I have two owls to represent my two kids, Nayeli and Malachi. Ever since I was young, owls have been a theme in my life (the wise old owl) and I wanted something to represent my kids and how much they mean to me. The owls are actually perched on the back of the roots from the tree showing that my kids are one of the things I am rooted in and my roots are something that they can stand on.
Do you collect anything?
I collect heart-shaped rocks. My mom always collected them when I was a kid and I would make fun of her for it, but when I got married, I started seeing them every time I went out in the mountains on hikes and bike rides. I started bringing them back to my wife to show her that I was thinking about her even while I was away from her in the mountains. Now every time I bring one back for my wife, I have to remember to bring one back for each kid too. I once found a huge one (probably weighed 10 pounds) about ten miles into a backcountry hunt that was so perfect that I had to carry it out. It was my way of showing my wife that she was worth every effort. The collection is getting a bit out of hand.
What charities or organizations do you support?
One Leg Up on Life is a non-profit that my sisters started after Christy's injury. Their goal is to provide prosthetics to young amputees in the third world where prosthetics, especially quality ones, are not usually available. They have done a few trips to Haiti and have provided prosthetics to many individuals, some of whom even got to run again for the first time since the earthquake in 2010.
Favorite TV shows?
House of Cards, The Blacklist, Prison Break.
What's your music of choice while training?
Lecrae, Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers, Moondog Matinee.
To say that a gold medal was a goal would be to put pressure on myself for something that is beyond my control.
Ever done karaoke?
Yes, and I always choose things like Jonny Cash or Bon Jovi that everyone knows so that everyone can sing with me and drown out my awful singing.
What will success look like for you in PyeongChang?
Making another Olympic team would be amazing, anything beyond that would be a bonus. Of course since the last Olympics wound down, I have been planning and strategizing about how to defend my title in Korea, but to say that a gold medal was a goal would be to put pressure on myself for something that is beyond my control. I hope to go out and progress my own skiing and do something that hasn't been done before and hopefully the judges like it!