Meditation gave freeskier Bobby Brown another chance at gold
ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Freeskier Bobby Brown has recovered from wipeouts that have rendered him almost motionless. He's broken his back, pelvis and both ankles.
What broke after the 2014 Sochi Olympics was his spirit.
Injuries transformed his lead-in to the 2014 Games into a brutal contest against both the clock and his own body to simply to make the U.S. team. Back at home, after a pain-filled journey that concluded with a ninth-place finish in Russia, he often found himself lying in bed, struggling to find a hint of motivation.
That journey may have saved Brown's career. His love-hate relationship with the Olympics has turned into love again, and his crushing experience of four years ago has recharged his battery for another run at gold.
"I'm happier, which makes my body hurt less, which makes me ski better, which makes everything good," said the 25-year-old Brown, who will compete this weekend in ski slopestyle (an Olympic event) and Big Air (not yet an Olympic event, at least not for skiers) at the Winter X Games.
On any given day, Brown meditates for about 40 minutes. He sits in a quiet room and focuses on his breathing so intently that he's drenched in sweat.
It has become part of a routine to escape a lethargy so powerful it left him wondering if he wanted to ski anymore.
He was considered the can't-miss medal prospect heading into Sochi for the debut of slopestyle skiing. He had all the big tricks, many of them honed during his childhood home near Denver, where he skied off his roof on snow days. Brown burst onto the scene at the Winter X Games in 2010 by winning two gold medals.
But on the road to Sochi, he broke his ankle while filming flips in the backcountry. He didn't have time to allow the ankle to properly heal. The result: He was standing at the bottom, keeping his chin up, as teammates Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper swept the podium.
Brown came home exhausted and wondering if, at 22, that might have been it for him.
"I was beaten down from the Olympics, the grind of getting to the Olympics, getting there and then dealing with all these crazy things in my body. It just wore my body out," Brown said.
Searching for answers, he visited high-performance psychologist Michael Gervais in Los Angeles. Gervais gave Brown ways to expand his mind, to tune out anxiety about the relentless physical challenges he faces in his exceedingly difficult sport.
"Say you're at the top of the course, and there's so many different things coming in, so much crazy input coming into your brain, they're there and you're never going to stop them from coming in," Brown explained. "But you're not going to focus on them, not going to attach to them. You're going to focus on what you're doing."
That mindset is setting up Brown for his run at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. He's hoping to go even though Big Air won't be on the program for skiers, while it has been added for snowboarders.
"The infrastructure is already there. Why not just put us in there and let us do it?" Brown said.
Maybe someday. Until then, he'll remain a force to be reckoned with in slopestyle.
"He's always been one of the best skiers to me," said Torin Yater-Wallace, a halfpipe freeskier who's involved in a film project with Brown. "Everything he does, he does with finesse and does it super-well, whether it's learning a new trick, or one he's done for years. He never ceases to amaze me."
Brown helped up the ante in a sport where a triple cork, once thought of as the show-stopper and a competition-winner, is now more considered the price of admission to compete in the event.
More of a difference-maker these days is how much height a skier can place between himself and the snow, and Brown is one of the best at that.
"What's so cool is that people are doing technical things and if you do those technical things really well, obviously you're going to do well," Brown said. "But at the same time, you can still think about skiing and the course in a different way that allows you to utilize all the features better and can still do really well."
This weekend, it's all about Winter X — the stage that opened doors for him. Bigger contracts (Red Bull). Movie deals in the backcountry ("Be Water"). Prestigious titles (named most handsome athlete in 2015, even beating out soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo).
"You only have these small windows to do these pretty amazing things — these really fun, cool things," Brown said. "I may not even make the Olympic team. No idea. But I'm going to give myself the best chance to do it. I have it inside of me to make that push again. Why not give it a go? Give it the real effort it really deserves."