PARK CITY – For snowboarder Louie Vito, there is one thing worse than never winning an Olympic medal.
The 25-year-old Sandy resident said the only thing he really fears is looking back at the end of his career and feeling like he could have done more to succeed.
It is a realization he had after finishing fifth in the half-pipe competition at the 2010 Winter Games.
“I really focused in on what I want to do,” he said on the final day of the U.S. Olympic Committee's media summit in Park City Wednesday. “I want to get to the Olympics, and whatever happens, I know I can look back and have no regrets; I did everything in my power that I could, and whatever else happens is just part of God’s plan.”
Leaving Vancouver without a medal was painful, but he said it’s also turned out to be a blessing.
“I think that was the best thing for me,” said the Ohio native who made Utah his home in 2006. “I wanted it so bad then. But not getting it kind of lit a fire under my rear end, and that’s when I stopped up and that’s when I talked to (speedskater) Apolo (Anton Ohno) about his trainer and trying to get my mind right.”
He enlisted the help of Ohno’s trainer, John Schaeffer, who has helped him physically feel better than he ever has.
Vito said that realizing where to focus one’s energy has been key to his evolution as an athlete. With snowboarding being a subjective sport — athletes are scored on style as well as trick difficulty — Vito said it became very important for him to focus on only that which makes him stronger.
“I’m 2 1/2 years of no drinking,” he said. “I stepped up my training. I have just really focused on what I want to do. Whatever happens, I can look back and have no regrets.”
He said giving up alcohol was difficult because snowboarding isn’t just a sport, it’s a culture that embraces partying. He joked that he still goes out, but that he just has “waters.”
“It was really tough actually, especially because I was pretty young,” he said. “It was just kind of taking that next step.”
He said career-ending injuries to friends, like that of Kevin Pearce, who was critically injured just two months before the Vancouver Olympics while they trained in Park City, were sobering reminders that they are not invincible.
“You realize snowboarding can be taken away in the blink of an eye, no matter how good you are. Something can go freakishly wrong, and boom, game over for you,” he said. “I just wanted to be as focused as I can and be as good as I can now.”
Snowboarders had another reminder of their mortality this summer when Luke Mitrani fractured a vertebrae in his neck while training for a competition. Mitrani said on Instagram that it was “terrifying,” as he suffered paralysis in the first few minutes after the injury. He’s had surgery and his prognosis is good, but it’s a sobering reminder of the dangers of the sport.
“It’s all about walking this really fine line between pushing yourself every single day, and not going over on the other side (of) being hurt all the time,” said Vito. “It’s a razor-sharp edge that we need to walk in this career of ours.”
When people ask about the risks, Vito said it’s important to remember that snowboarders are “calculated risk takers.” They take “baby steps” in learning new tricks, and take every precaution they can without becoming stagnant or complacent.
“I kind of feel like if you’re not scaring yourself,” said Vito’s 2010 Olympic teammate Scotty Lago, “you’re not doing it right.”
To which Vito adds, “And that adds to the feeling when you land a tough run.”
Which is why the work away from snow becomes so critical. He’s lost 15 pounds and lowered his center of gravity. He said he’s stronger, more fit and more confident. It’s paid off in the half-pipe with two Winter Dew Tour Cup overall titles and a podium at 17 of the last 20 major contests since the Olympics.
“It’s heaven disguised as hell,” he said. “I’ve noticed a big difference, which is why I’ve done it the past three summers. ... The tricks are just getting gnarlier, and to be able to do them, to take the slams and keep going, you have to be in shape.”
Vito said it wasn’t one moment, one incident, one feeling that pushed him to make significant changes.
“There was no incident,” he said with a shrug. “Nothing except wanting to make the most of this gift that I have, and seize every opportunity I can, while I can.”
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