In profile: Kelowna athlete loving the thrill of the race

Snowboarding and running fuel Austin White

  • Jan. 31, 2019 5:30 a.m.

By Marissa Tiel

The calendar is the most-opened app on Austin White’s phone. The third-year UBC Okanagan student manages a balancing act that rivals the Wallendas.

White is a member of the UBC Okanagan Heat cross country team, an athlete on the B.C. Snowboard senior team, a coach of the B.C. Snowboard junior team and a full-time human kinetics student.

“It is stressful at times. You have two high intensity sports teams you’re training for at the same time, athletics, your jobs, so all that together, it’s definitely time management skills being put to the test,” he says during a break from classes earlier this week. “But if you take it one day at a time, a week at a time, break it all down and stay organized, it’s really manageable actually and it sounds a lot worse than what it actually is.”

On a drizzly Tuesday morning, he sets up shop outside the Hangar gym at UBC Okanagan, spreading his things out on a table near the track as he shares notes with a classmate.

With exams looming, the Oyama student-athlete is nose deep in his computer. But the snowboarding season is just around the corner.

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Once winter hits, White will be spending his weekends up at Big White coaching the B.C. junior team and travelling with them to races.

White comes from a varied sports background and started snowboarding after a soccer teammate let him know about a team up at Big White when he was 11 years old.

He liked to snowboard, so he thought he’d give it a try and in the first year had a good showing during one of the races.

“Everybody in front of me just happened to fall and I ended up winning the race and I was 11 years old and it blew my mind,” he says. “ I was like, ‘oh my God, this is the best sport ever,’ and ever since then I started working my way up the teams and eight years later I’m still competing and pretty happy with where I’m at.”

White loves the thrill of the race: all the variables that come with sliding down a snowy track with three other guys over and over again.

“With snowboarding, it’s always something new,” he says. “You never know what’s going to happen and it’s being able to adapt that makes it so much more exciting and so much more thrilling.”

But White doesn’t just spend his time on the hill, he’s also a member of the UBC Okanagan Heat cross country running team.

He says that doing both snowboarding and running gives him a variety in his training.

Heat cross country running coach John Machuga agrees that competing in both sports offers a mental shift.

“You can give yourself a break physically and mentally,” he says.

Machuga says that White is a “good-natured” and “hard-working athlete.”

He’s always up for workouts, no matter how tough and he shows up with a smile.

“He doesn’t just do it,” says Machuga. “He’s excited to do it.”

White isn’t alone in being a high-performance athlete on the team. Brittany Webster, on the women’s side, is a 2010 and 2014 Olympian in cross country skiing. Machuga says they have a positive influence on their peers, working out with a focus and determination that isn’t always present in athletes who haven’t had the experience of racing at an international level.

It’s also the intangibles. Things like being able to travel well, says Machuga. “That makes a difference.”

But the physical traits of the sports don’t always match up.

In cross country, White is training for a 30 or 40-minute race, while in snowboardcross, the race is only a minute or a minute-and-a-half long.

White says that he’ll prioritize his training depending on the season. So in the fall, while his snowboarding team is working on power, he’s working on his endurance with the Heat.

Then as soon as cross country season ends, he’s in the gym working on his power and strength to catch up to his snowboarding teammates.

He gets his snow time on the weekends, while coaching the junior team.

“It’s tough because if I really wanted to be full-time training for myself, I’d be in Europe right now with the senior team. I’d be travelling to every NorAm event that’s happening, but with school and with my budget, it’s really difficult,” says White.

Even if he can’t train full-time in snowboarding, being with the junior team on weekends lets him enter that snowboardcross mindset and spend time out on the hill.

There’s no doubt that being a multi-sport athlete has been beneficial for White, even in ways that might not be visible.

“In snowboarding, I’ve dealt with stressful situations, stressful competitions, so taking that into my cross country, it’s easier for me to relax before a race, easier for me to get into the training regimen with cross country,” says White. “Then with cross country, there’s such good qualities I love about being on the team and I love about others on the cross country team that I try to incorporate into my snowboardcross.”

With cross country season wrapped up, White will be shifting his attention to snowboarding.

He’s only slated for three classes this winter semester to better focus on snowboarding and preparing for what could be the biggest race of his career to date.

In March he’ll be competing at his second Winter Universiade Games in Russia.

He first competed at the Winter Universiade Games in 2017 when they were hosted in Kazakhstan.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect there, but I ended up surprising myself with a sixth-place finish there,” he says. “For these upcoming games, I now know what to expect. I’ve got the first initial experience of the games out of the way, so I can focus on the racing there and focus on getting a good result.”

His first races of the season will take place at Panorama in January, and he should have four events under his belt before taking off for Russia.

B.C. Snowboarding assistant coach Meghan Hebert attended those first games with him back in 2017 and has been part of his growth in the sport.

“Over the last five years, I have had the pleasure to coach Austin and be part of his growth not only as an athlete, but also as a student and young adult. Probably what astounds me the most about Austin is how he’s grown mentally,” says Hebert.

“A huge part of our sport is being able to block out distractions as well as overcome hurdles and Austin does this well. I expect Austin will only push these boundaries this season as he continues to balance university life and sport life while preparing to travel to Russia for his second University Games.”

White says that he’s hoping to improve on his results this time around.

“I’m really hoping to do a lot better here and my goal is pretty much to take home a medal,” he says. “But I don’t want to leave the games feeling disappointed if I don’t win that though, so I’m trying to go in there with an open mind.”

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