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Olympian Seth Wescott
12/30/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

He's a two-time Olympic gold medalist who's been snowboarding longer than some of his competitors have been on the planet. Seth Wescott of Carrabassett Valley, Maine is considered a pioneer of the still new and increasingly popular sport of snowboard cross. But at 37, Wescott is not ready for retirement. Far from it. He's got his sights on Sochi and beyond. And as Susan Sharon reports, he'll first have to overcome a physical hurdle to get there.

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Snowboard cross is sometimes described as "motocross on a snowboard." In this event, several snowboarders all simultaneously race down a steep and narrow course that includes sharp turns, big jumps, inclines, drops and flats. Going airborne and crashing into each other come with the territory. In 2005, Seth Wescott became the world snowboard cross champion. And ever since the sport's Olympic debut, the following year, he's remained a leader. This was the sound of his come-from-behind Olympic victory in Vancouver in 2010.
Wescott is hoping for an Olympic medal three-peat at the games in Sochi, Russia, in February. ButThere's A potential glitch. Last April, while on an annual snowboarding trip in the rugged Alaska wilderness, he soared over a gap in a glacier and Ran smack into the side of a crevasse.

Seth Wescott says: "There was probably like a 40-foot-wide open hole. So, I hit the other wall and came to a dead stop."

Wescott tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his left knee and fractured his shin. Somehow, he managed to ride his snowboard to the bottom of the mountain where a film production crew and a helicopter were waiting for him. He had surgery, and began his recovery just ten months before the Olympics. With such a tight timeframe, Wescott says he had no choice but to use his own tissue to rebuild the injured knee.

Seth Wescott says: "We harvested 30 percent of the patella tendon to rebuild the ACL. I wanted to use a cadaver but there is a risk of rejection and so they'd have to wait about eight weeks to see if the body had rejected it or not and those eight weeks would have put me out of the Olympics for sure."

Wescott's rehab included intense physical therapy. Two days after surgery he was spinning a bike. Five months after his accident he strapped into his board in New Zealand for some practice runs. He sat out the snowboard cross World Cup in Canada earlier this month. But he says every week that goes by helps his knee get stronger.

Seth Wescott says: "It's just so fun to like be able to crank turns again and not, not have pain right now. It feels good."

Riding at Sugarloaf one recent morning, Wescott is pleased with his progress. This is the place where he is most comfortable, where he lives and co-owns an apres ski pub at the edge of the mountain and where he got into snowboarding after getting bored with skiing as a kid. Back then, the sport was so upopular and resented by some skiers that the manager of his hometown ski hill forbade it.

Seth Wescott says: "I remember going to this meeting and he was like, 'well, the next thing they're gonna want to ride lunch trays down this hill - but it was so crazy that people were close-minded that they couldn't see that we were experiencing the same joy that they did on skis."

Now, Wescott says, snowboarders, skiers and telemarkers come in fairly equal numbers to Sugarloaf. Equipment has improved, making the activity easier and more enjoyable. Wescott's father took up the sport for the first time in his 60's. But Wescott himself has been a good ambassador for the sport by being accessible and serving as a mentor to young skiers and snowboarders, says his friend and agent, Peter Carlisle.

Peter Carlisle says: "You know, I've seen many other athletes change dramatically when they have that kind of success and when the spotlight is on them. You know, in Seth's case he hasn't really changed much at all. You know, these kids will ride the mountain with him. I mean he's very much just part of the community."

Seth Wescott says: "Did you have fun out there today, Jack?"
Boy: "Yeah."
Wescott: "Cool, where'd you ride?"
Boy: "On a ski lift."

After 18 years as a professional snowboarder, Wescott says he still gets joy from watching kids on the mountain and from freeriding in remote places like the mountains of Alaska. But it would also give him joy to compete in the Olympics in Sochi in February. He says if that doesn't happen, it won't be the end of his career. He's plans on competing in the Olympics again in 2018 when he'll be 41.



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