USSA Works To Develop Future Stars
(Youth1) – Every January since 1997, millions of viewers tune into the ESPN X Games to see elite snowboarders and skiers throw seemingly impossible flips and aerial spins in what has become one of the most popular and competitive winter sports competitions in the world.
But behind the glitz and glory that has become the X Games there is an organization working to facilitate the development of the games youngest competitors: The United States Ski and Snowboard Association, or the USSA.
Formed in 1905, the USSA is the largest national governing body for an Olympic Sport, developing tens of thousands of young competitors in six sports: alpine skiing, cross country skiing, disabled alpine and cross country, freestyle, ski jumping and nordic combined and snowboarding. The USSA provides coaching and competitions for over 400 member clubs with the ultimate goal of making the U.S. the strongest winter sports country in the world.
Among those who have benefitted from the USSA’s development programs are Maddy Schaffrick and Jonathon Lillis, two of the youngest stars in the X Games.
Maddy, only 16 years old, was the youngest X Games competitor for two years in a row. She is a member of the USSA Rookie Snowboarding Team and some winter sports analysts believe she will become the future of women’s snowboarding.
Jonathon, also 16, has skied from the age of 9, and today is the youngest member of the U.S. National Ski Team. Like Maddy, Jonathon credits the USSA with developing his talent and helping him grow as an aerial skier.
Today, both young stars travel the world, competing against and training under their idols. For Maddy, those include women snowboarding legends Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark.
“I get to see them not just in their daily lives, but also in the industry of snowboarding,” Maddy says. “I’ve been able to see how they’ve gotten to where they are now and that’s cool and inspiring.”
While traveling to train and compete in locations such as Quebec and New Zealand with those most respected in their sport, Maddy and Jonathon reap the full benefits of the USSA, which arranges their travel, food, housing and clean equipment. The USSA even offer insurance to every athlete.
And almost every athlete on the National Team will confess: the insurance is necessary. Maddy, who is not presently training because of a knee injury says, “As a lot of us have learned, injury comes with the sport.”
While the tricks and flips involved in Jonathon’s freestyle skiing jumps or Maddy’s half-pipe runs may appear fun and thrilling to the millions watching the X Games, the moves are extremely physically demanding and require countless hours of training, which is all facilitated by the USSA.
“A run in the half pipe only lasts about 45 seconds, but it takes so much energy” says Maddy. “If you’re going big and throwing tricks you always have to have your core engaged and a strong lung capacity. I have worked very hard to get where I am.”
Maddy and Jonathon developed this strength at some of the most elite training centers in the world, including the U.S.
National Training Facility, or the “Center of Excellence,” in Park City, Utah. While there, Maddy and Jonathon train on the snow five to seven days a week, which is further supplemented by weight-room strength training seven days a week.
“I train very rigorously,” says Jonathon. “I train three weeks out of the month, with two travel days and five days off.”
And proof of the USSA’s strength, the training has paid off. For Maddy, it was at her first professional competition: the Grand Prix when she was only 14. Maddy had just been invited to the U.S. Rookie Team with the USSA and finished fourth, behind superstars Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter. “I’ve never felt more grateful for my sport,” Maddy says.
Jonathon also made a mark on the world of winter sports when he placed seventh at the 2010 U.S. Championships. He was only 15 years old, and the performance earned Jonathon a place on the U.S. National Team. And in 2011, Jonathon will have the opportunity to compete against elite athletes from around the world at the World Cup in Ontario this January.
But becoming two of the most competitive winter sports teens in the world hasn’t been easy, and Jonathon and Maddy have certainly sacrificed to achieve all they have. Jonathon hasn’t stepped in a classroom since 2008 and studies at the Keystone Online High School.
“I am a full-time student, so I spend a portion of the day on the air mat studying and teaching everything to myself,” Jonathon says. “I like the way I’ve been doing it.”
And Maddy and Jonathon, besides missing school, a staple for most teenagers, are also away from their families through all the traveling that their sport requires. They are actually around their team more than their families. But they do not regret their decision by any means; their teams have become their extended families.
“I’ve met my best friends and my brothers and sisters through traveling with the team,” Maddy says. “When you’re traveling with the team, you become really well acquainted with everyone and it really becomes a family.”
Jonathon has also benefitted from the family aspect of the USSA team, as his experiences have given him one of his best friends, someone he describes as his sister: Ashley Caldwell, former U.S. Rookie Athlete of the Year. “The closest team member to my age is Ashley,” he says, “so we have pretty much lived together for the past three years.”
Unlike most sports, where competitors are cut-throat and entirely goal oriented, the close relationships between young athletes in the USSA has given Maddy and Jonathon a unique perspective on their future goals. Although the 2014 Olympic Games are entirely within reach, the athletes are focused on enjoying the present and helping future winter sports stars.
“I just want to land great jumps and compete a lot,” Jonathon says. “I’m looking to do well at the World Cup, but I’m young so I’m looking to just stay healthy and do the best I can so that maybe in four years I can go to the Olympics.”
Maddy says her goals aren’t competition related. “It would be nice to go to the Olympics or do well at an X Games, but my real goal would be to evolve the sport somehow; to push women’s snowboarding in a whole new direction.”
The support of the USSA has already allowed Maddy and Jonathon to transform into the strongest young competitors of their respective sports, and with the 2014 Olympics surely within reach, their ability to make a long-lasting mark on the winter sports world is certain. So as millions again watch in awe of the acrobatics surrounding the X Games, behind the scenes once again the USSA works to help Maddy and Jonathon lead the way for future young winter sports stars.
By Elizabeth Murray
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