Breckenridge’s Lauren Weibert returns from Russia and her first Winter Games with two medals
It’s been three days since Lauren Weibert returned from her first trip to Russia, and she’s still feeling the effects of the long journey.
“I’m still jet-lagged … woke up at 4:30 a.m. today,” she wrote in an email, paired with updates on the gold and silver medals she won at the 2015 Winter Deaflympics in Khanty-Mansiysk, a city in Siberia. “Awesome!”
Then, in typical Colorado fashion, April threw a temper tantrum. Weibert and I had every intention of taking a few morning laps through the flowy, inventive terrain park at Copper Mountain Resort, complete with slopestyle remnants from last weekend’s USASA Nationals. Yet between the dreary weather and brutal jet lag, she was more inclined to curl up on a couch.
Not that I could blame her. Even for a 26-year-old, flying for 21 hours straight isn’t kind to an athlete’s body. It’s been one hell of a ride: Weibert spent months training between shifts at a local coffee shop and, unlike Olympians with no hearing impairment, raising the $4,200 she needed to make the trek to Siberia. And besides, she’s now a bona-fide gold medalist in snowboard slopestyle — who can argue with a little R&R for a world champion?
In lieu of a photo shoot, Weibert and I chatted via email about her first taste of Russia, competition jitters and how she managed to win silver in an event she never even tried before the Deaflympics.
Summit Daily: Talk about the atmosphere when you arrived at the Deaflympics. Was it what you expected?
Lauren Weibert: I had no idea what to expect, so my plan was to just go and have fun. After all, that is why I snowboard in the first place. The atmosphere was incredible — everyone was so warm and inviting. I had no problem making friends from all over the world thanks to Universal Sign Language. I have never had a competition where I can just chat away with other competitors and walk away as friends in the end. Generally, people act so weird when they find out I am deaf, but I became instant friends with everyone at the Deaflympics and it was just amazing.
SD: Walk me through your thoughts before the winning slopestyle run. What was running through your mind?
LW: I was really discouraged! The morning qualifiers went great, the weather was incredible, but by the time afternoon rolled around, it got super windy. It was a really strong headwind, and to make things more challenging the jumps weren’t built properly. They weren’t safe at all — we protested but the Russians basically said, “Too bad.” There were supposed to be a total of 28 men for slopestyle. After two days of practice, 14 men withdrew by competition day due to injuries (and) seven people ended up in the hospital. I watched a girl from Italy take her final run and attempt to spin off the jump — she fell and broke one side of her pelvis and fractured the other side. It was nerve-wracking to see that happen, so I basically just told myself to ride smart and safely and try not to worry about the wind.
SD: Along with slopestyle, you won silver in boardercross — an event you’ve never done before. What convinced you to try it?
LW: The team director for the USA Deaf Sports Federation, Jeff Salit, asked me if I would be willing to try it since USADSF wanted more women in other events, too. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try! My only experience that’s even remotely close to boardercross are a few “Chinese downhills” at Arapahoe Basin, and my boyfriend, Cobie Harloff, also built a track in our backyard with banked turns and jumps, which we call Helltrack. That’s it.
SD: Now that you’ve won gold and silver, what will you do now? Go for a bronze? Retire? Take up skiing?
LW: I would love to encourage more deaf people to get into snowboarding/skiing. I also want to help make some changes for the United States Deaf Sports Federation so we can receive more support in the future. The interesting thing is that Deaf USA athletes get virtually no support. Russia pays for their Russian athletes’ fees, in addition to awarding any Russian gold medalists $100,000 (USD), a house and a car. Practically every other country had a national team coach coaching them. We don’t have one.
Hearing Olympians get $25,000 for winning gold, $15,000 for winning silver and $10,000 for bronze — I get a pat on my back and a thumbs up for my gold and silver medals. We also receive no financial support from the United States Olympic Committee (but) Olympians and Paralympians do.
SD: Think you’ll return to the next Deaflympics in 2019?
LW: I’m going to have to defend my gold, so yes, I plan on it! I heard that a possible place for the 2019 Winter Deaflympics is somewhere in Northern Italy and rumors also said Japan — either one of those places would be awesome. I have to go! I know I will be 30, but you know what? There were some athletes in their 60s at this Deaflympics still kicking a**.
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