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Athletes Trade Ski Boots for Gym Shoes to Raise Awareness

By Megan Harrod
June, 7 2018
Gym Shoes
Mikaela Shiffrin put on her gym shoes and joined professional break dancers from New York City and Philadelphia to raise awareness about their careers on the mountain. (Jana Bannan Photography)

U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes from across sports joined professional break dancers from New York City and Philadelphia who compete on the Pro Breaking Tour to learn some new “breaking” moves and raise awareness about their careers on the mountain.

The event, hosted by donor Steve Graham – who is a Burke Mountain Academy alumnus and a longtime supporter of U.S. Ski & Snowboard – was an example of a regional reception organized by U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Foundation team. Olympic champion and alumna Dianne Roffe, two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympians Liz Stephen, Breezy Johnson, Tommy Biesemeyer and Ryan Cochran-Siegle, World Juniors downhill champion Alice Merryweather, and three-time national champion Nina O’Brien were on site to raise awareness, along with CEO & President Tiger Shaw.

Trisha Worthington, executive vice president and chief development officer for the Foundation, says the magic of these smaller gatherings is that athletes and prospective donors can be introduced in small gatherings that allow for more personal, one-on-one interactions.

“There is nothing more meaningful,” she said, “than hearing directly from our athletes about their needs and the impact of donor support on their ability to compete and succeed. These events provide guests with a unique opportunity to have personal conversations with athletes regarding their sport endeavors, training schedules, competition experiences and other topics. Additionally, each reception has its own theme or tone, set by the host.”

The theme for Graham’s reception? Breakdancing, known as “breaking” by the pros. Word on the street is that Shiffrin, Cochran-Siegle, Biesemeyer, and Stephen even gave it a shot and showed off their best moves…or at least attempted to do so.

One of my favorite parts of the night was watching the breakers perform in Steve’s basement and then getting to meet and chat with them afterward,” reflected Cochran-Siegle. “They all had a lot of cool stories that they shared with us, and it was just really interesting to compare and contrast each of our lifestyles and experiences with one another.”

Steve and Christina Graham did an amazing job accommodating us the entire time, between flying us private, providing great food and entertainment, and putting us up in their cozy country-style guest houses,” Cochran-Siegle reflected. “Having the event in the springtime was also a good time of year personally because it fits right in with my scheduled downtime at home in April and May. For whatever reason, this made it easier to relax and reflect on my past season with other guests rather than other fundraisers that I’ve been to in the fall where a higher anticipation and pressure seems to lie on the upcoming race season.”  

With zero government funding, athletes at U.S. Ski & Snowboard understand the importance of spreading the word about their passions, which have turned into careers they love dearly. Though three-time Olympic medalist, three-time World Championships medalist, five-time slalom World Cup champion and back-to-back overall World Cup champion Shiffrin juggles a busy schedule as one of the few remaining multi-event skiers on the World Cup circuit, and between media and sponsor obligations, she often makes time to attend events hosted by Foundation. Shiffrin, Cochran-Siegle, and fellow teammates want to see their sport survive and thrive, and understand that – as Voltaire (or, more recently Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in Spiderman) – says with great power, comes great responsibility.  

The best way you can get that as an athlete is to go to that and be involved,” noted Shiffrin. “I think it’s important that athletes attend in order for potential donors to get a heart-to-heart, face-to-face connection and understand us as humans, and what we do/why we’re so passionate about it…in order for them to want to support us. I loved this event, hugely because of the added element of breakdancing – it’s one of Steve Graham’s many passions. It ended up being a sort of fun little get-together/gathering/party that was fairly intimate with a bunch of people who he knows from the area but spreading the word about U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the fact that we don’t receive government support. So many people are completely shocked by that, especially when they figure out that most of our competitor nations have support from their governments.”

Not only did athletes enjoy mixing and mingling with fans and potential donors in a relaxed environment, they also enjoyed hitting the gym floor with guys from another niche sport in a completely different world than their own. Shiffrin had gotten some intel prior to the event, and she and coach Jeff Lackie had been incorporating some moves into her conditioning because she wanted to be a part of it.

For Shiffrin, this activity made the event unique and different. “It was super cool,” Shiffrin said with a giggle. “We saw these professional breakers doing their thing, and then they had some of us come in and try the moves. We all got to talk and compare notes between sports. We were able to meet personalities that I might not have met otherwise, and these are people that we’ll be keeping in touch with for years to come – they were funny and down-to-earth. Their sport has a totally different lifestyle than ours, but there’s a lot of similarity and overlap. Ski racing is a male and white male-dominated sport, so it was really good to break out of our little bubble.”

Shiffrin said there may have even been a little bit of heckling out on the gym floor. “A lot of those guys are sponsored by energy drink companies, and we got some trash-talking going – between Red Bull for me and their energy drink sponsor. It was funny because here I am…I’m a total dingus, and I’m talking with people about sport who I would never expect would even hear what I have to say. That was super cool.”