Schleper’s other baby: Alpine skiing
Sarah Schleper, 31, is married and has a child, but she’s never settled down. She might finally do that after her final Olympic race, the slalom.
A lot of women ski racers look forward to the day they can marry, settle down and have a child.
Sarah Schleper, the only U.S. Ski Team member born in the 1970s, has already knocked off two of the three.
She is married, has a child, but never settled down.
After finishing a respectable 14th in Thursday’s giant slalom, Schleper hurried through the media mixed zone area at Whistler Creekside and made a beeline toward 2-year-old Lasse.
“That’s my baby,” Schleper said.
Lasse was wearing a lime-green hooded snow jacket when Daddy handed him over the fence to Mommy, who picked the boy up and threw him on her shoulders. Lasse played with the tassel on Schleper’s ski cap for a bit before it was time for Mom to train.
Schleper, 31, will compete in her final Olympic race Friday when the women’s Alpine schedule ends with the slalom.
“I feel ready,” Schleper said. “I’m just hoping I can really do it in my last Olympic race.”
Schleper isn’t the U.S. team event headliner — not by a long shot. That would be golden-girl teammate Lindsey Vonn, who will race the slalom despite breaking her right pinkie finger during a first-run crash in Wednesday’s giant slalom.
America’s other two entrants in the race are Hailey Duke and Megan McJames.
This is not a strong medal chance for the U.S., but don’t be surprised if Schleper is America’s top finisher. Vonn, frankly, is beat up and hasn’t seriously trained in the slalom in weeks. She’s competing with a sore shin, a bruised left wrist and a fractured right pinkie. Vonn, who already has gold and bronze medals, might struggle to complete two runs.
This is the final shot at glory for Schleper, a veteran who has battled back from numerous injuries as she raced in the shadow of younger stars.
When Julia Mancuso speaks about the U.S. Ski Team deserving more attention than just Vonn, she is talking about teammates like Schleper.
“Just to be able to come back from injuries, and to have a 2-year-old, and she was 14th today, that was awesome,” Mancuso said.
This is the fourth Olympics for Schleper, who finished 10th in slalom four years ago in Turin, Italy.
A knee injury after Italy forced her back home to Vail, where she met the cousin of a friend, a Mexican with a long and very romantic name: Federico Gaxiola de la Lama.
“I thought he was the most beautiful guy I’d ever seen in my life,” she said. “One thing led to another.”
Schleper became pregnant before they got married. “I was totally in love with him. . . . It was legit in my heart and in my eyes.”
And along came Lasse, in January of 2008, named after the great Norwegian racer Lasse Kjus.
That might have been the end of her racing life — but Schleper couldn’t let go.
“Even while I was pregnant I never had this notion I would stop ski racing,” she said. “I was still totally in love with my sport.”
Schleper was back on skis 40 days after giving birth, but because of her knee injury and pregnancy, she missed two full seasons on the World Cup before returning in 2008.
Federico encouraged Schleper to make one more run for the Olympics, and here she is.
“Go out with a bang,” she said.
Schleper decided, if she was going to continue, that Federico and Lasse would travel with her on the World Cup circuit. Lasse learned to walk during a stop in Spain.
There were, of course, adjustments. Schleper was still breast feeding when she rejoined the U.S. team for a ski camp.
“My coach thought I had an oxygen tank on because he saw the tubes,” she said. “He said, ‘Nothing is ever going to surprise me with ski racing or coaching after coaching this team.’ ”
Federico left real estate to become a full-time father.
Making it back has been a financial struggle. Schleper said she lost sponsorships when she got pregnant and forfeited ski-team funding when she turned 30 and was not on the “A” team. “I’m not making any money,” Schleper said.
Schleper scored her only World Cup victory in 2005, in slalom, and her best result this year was fifth at Lienz, Austria, in December.
She is No. 25 in the World Cup slalom rankings, but the star of the family is clearly Lasse.
Racers and coaches dote on the boy on the ski-race circuit.
Other skiers have gone back on the circuit after having a child, but it’s rare. Once, it was tragic.
Just before the 1994 Lillehammer Games, Austrian star and mother Ulrike Maier died after crashing in a downhill race.
Schleper doesn’t worry too much about the risk factor because she doesn’t ski the speed events: downhill and super G.
“It’s not really possible that you’re going to die,” Schleper said. “The most you’re going to do is blow out your knee.”
Schleper doesn’t recommend this baby/ski-race thing for everybody.
Lindsey Vonn, who is 25, loves Lasse and has talked to Schleper about motherhood.
Schleper’s advice: “She should wait and get all the gold she can get, and then settle down for the family part of it.”
Not surprisingly, U.S. Coach Jim Tracy, who says having Lasse on tour has been no problem at all, has the same advice.
“I would tend to think that she’d probably wait,” Tracy said of Vonn. “I hope. Lindsey, if you hear me . . . WAIT!”
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