Olympic connection: Behind the scenes of Silverthorne’s Olympic celebration, Team USA’s trip to White House
After the honored Olympians and Paralympian completed a processional parade, after a ride high up in a fire truck bucket and after they walked through a shoulder-to-shoulder throng of fellow Silverthorne residents, Summit County local Jim Leaphart knew this was his moment.
That’s because Saturday morning’s whirlwind was much the same as the past four months have been for hometown Olympians Red Gerard, Kyle Mack, Chris Corning and Paralympian Jimmy Sides.
Fresh off of a Friday evening flight back to Denver from Team USA’s visit to the White House — and a stop at Chipotle for a late-night snack, for Gerard, Corning and Mack — here again were the under-21 snowboarding trio, dressed to the nines in a “VIP room“ at 9:45 a.m., ready for more media interviews.
The interviews were quickly followed by a Facebook live stream broadcast. Then there was the ascension of the bucket truck, then the parade and then re-entering into the rec center through the adoring, star-spangled mass of locals.
And it was then when Leaphart saw — through the tinted glass door of the VIP room — Gerard taking a breather back inside while talking to some young skateboarders, Leaphart made his move.
While hundreds of others jammed through the rec center’s front doors after their heroes, Leaphart saw one of his skateboard students, Ben Longley, getting an autograph from Gerard. So in the short interval of time between the parade and key to the city ceremony in the gymnasium, Leaphart ducked in the ajar door and had Gerard sign a Summit County-made skateboard — one spray-painted by local youth boarders.
And it was with a gold marker, of course.
“I teach all the kids and I’m like, ‘well, Ben’s in there first, so let me go congratulate Red,’” Leaphart said. “I teach the skateboard camp over in Breck, and Red has known me from skateboarding since he was probably, like, 14. As soon as I walked in, he knew who I was and I wore a ‘Board Friendly’ shirt for him so I could just slide right on in.”
For the local Silverthorne Olympic heroes like the gold medal-winner Gerard, 17, Saturday was that kind of a day. It was an exclamation point, one final major public appearance on the wild ride after becoming the youngest American male to ever win a Winter Olympic gold medal in an individual competition.
“Kyle, Red and I were just talking this morning about how much we’re catching up on sleep right now,” Corning said. “I’ve been putting in long hours of sleeping because I haven’t been. But, being able to be home and decompress like this is nice.”
And for Gerard and the others, the day was chock-full of moments like the one with Leaphart. It was full of moments where, after touring the country and world, they were again turning to their left and right to greet, hug and pose for photos or sign autographs with familiar faces they’d previously seen around town.
It was one final reminder of how proud these three under-21 snowboarders, and the inspiring Paralympian and military veteran Sides, made the people of Silverthorne and Summit County during their Olympic triumphs.
“We’re just kind of along for the ride today,” the silver medalist Mack said in the VIP room before the parade.
This was a day to recognize them all for helping to put Silverthorne on the map internationally. The keys to the city that were awarded from Mayor Ann-Marie Sandquist were evidence of that.
Perhaps more so, though, this was a day to recognize the tremendous community support the Olympians and Paralympians received from this winter sports-loving, mountain community during and after the Olympics.
It was precisely that for the group of four — Gerard, Mack, Corning and Sides — when they ascended the bucket truck, waving at and thanking people they recognized.
And when they listened to and answered questions from Silverthorne Elementary students in front of the massive, hanging-over-the-rails crowd in the gymnasium.
Then they gleefully allowed the local firemen they were with in the bucket to adhere “Junior Firefighter” stickers to their chests for the trip in the truck back to the rec center.
“They said, ‘hey, do you guys want junior firefighter stickers?’” Sides said after the parade. “I thought he was joking and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll take one!’ And (Gerard, Mack and Corning) were like, ‘yeah!’ So he handed them out, and they were like: ‘Are we actually doing this?’ And then we all put them on.”
The Olympic-Paralympic foursome rode in the bucket truck behind vehicles such as the “Big Red” red-painted school bus, security ATVs with American flags draped across the rears and a Silverthorne town snowplow painted with the likenesses of the four snowboarders. And along the way, as the crowds grew from Starbucks down to the rec center, all four interacted with the crowd, one that was bigger than they expected.
“You stoke way more people out there than you think,” Mack said.
“It was almost surreal up there,” Sides added. “We were telling jokes, waving to people we knew and saw, and we were trying to do some live stream, but it wasn’t working so we went back to waving. It was cool.”
The group then entered a packed rec center gymnasium through a rear door before a 30-minute reception celebration. It was one in which Gerard and the others recounted what Friday’s White House festivities were like before taking seats behind side tables to sign autographs for anyone in attendance.
And what a Friday it was at the White House for Gerard and Team USA. On Friday, Gerard trended, once again, when media outlets like Transworld Snowboarding reported he acknowledged President Donald Trump as “dude,” when Trump called him up during the White House celebration.
But that moment followed a wild 24 hours for the Olympians after a Thursday night Team USA awards banquet, red carpet walk and cocktail hour.
The next morning — in a scene similar to his gold medal morning in Pyeonghchang — Gerard and Mack woke up at 7:45 a.m., the same time they were supposed to be down in the lobby. Rushed out, the duo joined Corning, Sides and all the other Olympians and Paralympians at the White House for a tour, one where Mack had his “Welcome to the White House” moment when he placed his drink down on a random table.
“And it’s actually a priceless coffee table,” Mack said. “Someone’s like, ‘That’s like $5 million,’ and we are all setting our coffees down on it. With a coaster, you know, we’re not that bad.”
The Olympians then cracked jokes waiting for the president to appear, wasting surprises on others like Ivanka Trump each time the doors opened, hoping for the president.
Once Trump was out there, Gerard was singled out to join him on stage.
And even if he might be an Olympic gold medalist, he wasn’t immune to the nerves of the moment.
“I was all nervous, man,” Gerard said. “He said my name and then he was like, ‘Why don’t you come up here? And I was like, ‘ah, you don’t have to do that.’ I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
Twenty-four hours after the pomp and circumstance on the White House lawn, things rounded out for Gerard, Mack, Corning and Sides at the rec center. And once done signing autographs, the Silverthorne resident Sides found his way back home much like any other community member: by skateboarding down Rainbow and Mesa drives past the same town skatepark where the gold medalist Gerard grew up riding on days his dad was in the rec center working out.
“I figured I’d skate to try to save parking spaces,” Sides said. “To get out of here is going to be kind of a cluster.”
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