Justin Reiter didn't take the chair lift up to the metaphorical summit of the Sochi Games. While half-pipe snowboarders like Shaun White have their seasons funded by the USAA, alpine snowboarders like Reiter have to pay their own way, or enlist the help of sympathetic strangers on sites like Rallyme. After sustaining himself for months on ramen noodles and fresh powder (snow not cocaine), Reiter qualified for Team USA in early January. Here's what you need to know about him:
1. He's Been Living Out of His Truck
Grind TV reports that while Shaun White was collecting $3 million in endorsement deals in 2013, Reiter was sleeping in the back of his pick-up truck.
Reiter gave a tour of his vehicle turned apartment to KSL-5TV in Salt Lake City saying:
“In the back is the bedroom and lounge, all inclusive. A lot of people would probably go nuts over this, but I think the longer that you live with less you realize the less that you actually need."
Reiter explained to Grind TV that without USAA support, alpine snowboarders are "each individually responsible not only to fund their entire season on their own but to also find their own coaching staff, equipment techs, and medical assistance while on the road. It makes it a very difficult road to travel while competing against the best in the world who have a huge advantage by being fully supported with coaches, staff, doctors, physical therapist, techs, video staff, and even trainers/masseuses."
Reiter appears to welcome the media attention his temporary homelessness has inspired. AT&T got word of Reiter's hard-scrabble tale, and signed him up for a three day commercial, involving snowcats and a dozen snowmobiles. However, he doesn't want his story to be seen as a plea for pity, saying:
“This is a choice that I have made,” Reiter told GrindTV. “My mantra and words of support are, ‘Find what you love and do it no matter the cost.’ When things are difficult and money is tight, I have to remember those words and that accomplishment without challenge is not really an accomplishment."
2. He Narrowly Missed the Last Two Olympics
Steamboat Today ran a profile of Reiter just before he qualified back in December, in which they described his all-consuming drive to make it to the Olympics after the two near-misses in his past:
"Ask 100 athletes about the 2014 Olympics, set to begin Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia, and 99 may tell you all the right things about 'one competition at a time'...Reiter, however, is unashedly, unflinchingly in it for the Olympics."
In 2006 Reiter missed by one qualifying spot. In 2010, a broken kneecap disrupted a strong season and kept him out of contention.
A year ago, Reiter suffered another near miss at the 2012 World Championship race when, a couple dozen meters from securing gold, he cut just inside one of the final gates and was dropped to silver.
Still, that finish along together with the rest of his season were enough to send him to Sochi.
3. He Tried to Quit, but The Mountain Called Him Back
Reiter's original plan had been to make the Olympics in 2010, then retire. When he failed to make it, he retired anyway. Reiter took a job as a sales and marketing manager at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. He told Steamboat:
"I started a real life, got a real job, and I worked hard. I was good at it, but I was not fulfilled, so I struggled with it for a year and a half.”
In 2013, he returned to the competition, citing "unfinished business" he needed to take care of.
Reiter is the first Ghost-American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics.
4. He Started Skiing When He Was 18 Months Old
According to his Grind TV bio, Reiter's mother strapped him into a pair of "teeny little red skis," when he was just 18-months-old. He was skier until he first laid eyes on a snowboard, and raised hell until his Santa Claus/his stepfather brought him a Burton Performer Elite for Christmas. He slept with it that night. Now he sleeps in his truck. But soon, he will sleep in the Olympic Village.
5. He Says He's In It For the Fun Now
While Steamboat characterizes Reiter as unusually goal focused, even for an olympic athlete, he told USAA that the biggest change in his game the past year has been an attitude adjustment:
"I took a different approach. Said [I was] not doing this for results—I’m doing this because I love to do it. That’s what it’s about. And since that time, that’s been my main focus.”
When Reiter returns from the Olympic he hopes to find a career that is "eco-friendly, creative and unique."
A career that may be just as hard to find in the modern American economy, as a gold medal will be to earn on the frozen slopes of Sochi.