Westminster's winter athletes retire from competitive skiing and snowboarding: some by choice, others by fate

Westminster College had 23 students compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics, but many other skiers and snowboarders have retired from competition altogether since coming to college. 

Many factors contribute to winter athletes’ decision to leave the competitive ski and snowboard scenes. Some athletes leave by choice and others leave by fate. 

Jess Breda, a junior neuroscience major and chemistry minor, began skiing in a competitive program when she was 10 years old and stopped only after injuring herself in 2013. 

Jess Breda, a junior neuroscience major and chemistry minor, trains for her first Olympic Qualifier in 2013. Breda retired from competitive skiing after taking a bad fall and experiencing a severe concussion that impaired her vision and balance. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Jess Breda, a junior neuroscience major and chemistry minor, trains for her first Olympic Qualifier in 2013. Breda retired from competitive skiing after taking a bad fall and experiencing a severe concussion that impaired her vision and balance. Photo by Jacob Smith.

“I was training for my first Olympic qualifier in 2013 and unfortunately took a bad fall and hit my head,” Breda said. “I didn’t think it was that bad of a concussion, but eventually all of the symptoms displayed themselves.” 

Breda took the rest of the 2013 season off to undergo vision and vestibular rehabilitation in Salt Lake and Park City. 

“I think I was two years out of my injury, and I sort of got to the point where I was like, ‘This isn’t fun anymore,'” she said. “I was fighting my body every day just to take a few runs.” 

Breda said her experience was hard because it wasn’t her choice to stop competing. 

“If I had a choice, I would keep going," Breda said. "But you sort of get to the point where you find other things in your life that matter a lot.” 

Breda said school and other sports like rock climbing and mountain biking helped her transition from a life of competitive skiing to one of school, fun and safety from further injury. 

Max Finn, a junior business management major, started skiing when he was 18 months old and began competing when he was five. Finn retired from competitive riding after his first year at Westminster not because of injury but by choice. 

“It was a little bit of everything," Finn said. "I love [competitive] skiing, but at the same time it’s dangerous. I’ve watched buddies go down because they want to be on top.” 

Finn said his choice to retire from competitive skiing was a combination of not wanting to get injured and his desire to ski for fun. 

“You know, you want to be on top," Finn said. "But at the same time, is it really worth ruining your season?”  

Finn said he thinks filming his skiing and creating videos is more rewarding than performing well in a competition and said he doesn’t regret leaving competitive skiing to do it. 

Jess Breda (far right) had three podium performances during her 2011–2012 season before she was injured. Breda's concussion forced her to end her 2013 season early. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Jess Breda (far right) had three podium performances during her 2011–2012 season before she was injured. Breda's concussion forced her to end her 2013 season early. Photo by Jacob Smith.

“Landing an awesome competition run is super cool and all," Finn said. But for him, creating a ski film "is a way better feeling and it sticks around a lot longer." 

Sarah Beaudry, program director of Westminster's Snowboard Team, said a lot of students who grow up riding competitively don't necessarily choose to quit competing when they come to school but rather because they don’t know they can continue to do so in college. 

“There’s not a whole lot of understanding that college snowboarding is even an option,” Beaudry said. “We’re trying to get the word out there because a lot of people don’t know about it.” 

Beaudry said another reason winter athletes stop competing when they come to Westminster might be because the college doesn't offer what they're looking for. 

“We do not have a [freestyle] ski team,” Beaudry said. “Two or three athletes reach out to me every year asking about a [freestyle] ski team, and we just don’t have one.” 

Beaudry said she doesn’t know why Westminster doesn't have a freestyle ski team but hopes the school will someday venture into that realm.