Women's Snowboarding Icon Gretchen Bleiler to Retire From Competition

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Pay close attention to the finals of women’s snowboard Superpipe at X Games on Saturday evening. You’ll see the future of the sport in the likes of Chloe Kim and Arielle Gold. You’ll also see one of the most influential women the sport has ever known. She’s introduced new tricks. She’s won five X Games medals. She has an Olympic medal. And on Saturday evening, Gretchen Bleiler will drop into the X Games Superpipe for the final time.

“I’ve been competing in the halfpipe for 17 years,” says Gretchen when she stopped by the Oakley suite the day after announcing her retirement. “I’m not necessarily done with snowboarding, but I think I’m ready to be done with halfpipe competition because I’m ready for new things.”

Admittedly, Gretchen has known for a couple of years that this would be her last competition season, but never in a million years could she have foreseen that it would unfold the way that it has.

In June of 2012 she was at the top of her game, working on taking her signature trick to the next level – a double crippler – and had her sights firmly set on conquering the one result that continued to elude her: Olympic gold. When she suffered a devastating eye injury.

In the time since the accident Gretchen has made a truly remarkable comeback, one she admits that even she at times did not believe was possible. Today, her comeback story may not have the fairytale happy ending she was hoping for, but her passion for snowboarding burns as strong as ever and you can see the light in her eyes as she talks about all of the possibilities that her future holds.

In a touchingly candid interview Gretchen takes us through some of the trials and tribulations of her recovery, reminisces about career highlights and let’s us in on what the future after competitive snowboarding might look like for her.

The biggest challenge of my entire career.
The comeback journey after my trampoline accident was the biggest challenge of my entire career. Throughout the comeback process I was constantly comparing myself to where I was before the accident because at that time I had been feeling like everything I had been working toward was finally coming together. And then life happens.

I worked my ass off, but I still had not gotten back to level I was at right before the accident . That was a huge mental obstacle for me. Especially this season going into the Olympic qualifiers because I knew I had to let go of the expectations and ride from the heart, but that’s so hard to do when you’re not at your full potential.

Undeniable purpose.
When that accident happened, if you had told me then that “in a year you’re going to almost make the Olympic team” I would have been like “I don’t think so!” But I had an undeniable purpose for continuing on.

There was one event that I had not conquered. One contest that I had not won. So, of course, me being one of the most competitive people in the world, I wanted to go there and I wanted to win. I had been able to achieve so many other goals, yet an Olympic gold medal is the one result that still eluded me. And damn it, I wanted that really bad.

Time to share.
Before the accident it was my goal to ride to my full potential, make the US Olympic team and win a gold medal, but all of that just wasn’t in the cards.

Throughout this season I continued to struggle to accept that my best today was still not as good as before the accident. Then, in the final two days of the Olympic qualification period I finally let go of where I was and recognized that I’m a totally different person now. With that acceptance in my heart I went into the final Olympic qualifier in Mammoth and not only did I do my front nine again for the first time in eight months, but I also landed my run in practice.

Landing that run was one of the biggest obstacles I had overcome because it had turned into a symbol of everything I had been through. To have broken through, on that day, literally on the last run of practice was incredible. I was like holy shit, at the eleventh hour it is finally coming together. It’s going to happen!

But for whatever reason, things went the way they did and ultimately, while I landed the nine in both of my runs, I fell on the back five, which had been one of my stronger tricks this year. I did my best, but it wasn’t meant to be. Despite my disappointment, I’m proud of how far I’ve come and really grateful to every person who helped me get here.

I’ve been to two Olympics, so now I guess it’s time to share.

Shining moments of a bright career.
There are two highlights that come to mind when I look back at my career.

One is winning the silver medal in 2006. It had been my childhood dream to be an Olympian. Just making it to the Olympics was the biggest achievement ever, but then to have gone, ridden my absolute best and won the silver medal was like the cherry on top of the Sunday.

The other is my 2010 X Games gold medal. I wasn’t expecting that one at all! I went into those Games, right before the Olympics in Vancouver, with the mind set that I was just going to treat them like practice after all of the intensity of the Olympic qualification period. I was unattached to any result and that mentality allowed me to really enjoy the experience. That night I let everything go and I road better than I ever had in my entire career. It was the best run I have ever done in my entire life.

Words of wisdom.
Snowboarding is not just something that we do. It’s who we are. Remember to keep things in perspective ; be grateful; ride with your heart and not your mind and try to stay detached from the results, the fame and the glory because when that happens the results are nice, but it’s really about the journey and the experience of getting there.

All of it!
During my career I’ve had so many awesome opportunities that have added dimension and joy to my career and now I want to take advantage of them all, but first I want to go ride powder!

One of the most exciting prospects goes back to something I’ve been doing for years. As a professional athlete I’ve always looked for ways to be the best snowboarder I could be and through that exploration I have come across some amazing tools and techniques that have helped me not just become a better snowboarder, but a better person in my daily life. Right now I’m studying to get my teacher’s certification in meditation and while, I don’t know what it looks like, I’m interested in finding a way to take my skills, experience and education and use them to help other people meet and fulfill their full potential.

At the end of the day, I love being in snowboarding. It’s a huge part of who I am. I absolutely plan on staying in it, continuing to support and add to it however I can.

Author

Elishia Matta

Date

January 23, 2014

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