Saturday 22 September 2018

'Being born in Cork opened up so many opportunities'

Brendan Newby during yesterday’s training session at the Phoenix Snow Park. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brendan Newby during yesterday’s training session at the Phoenix Snow Park. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Alan Waldron

When Brendan 'Bubba' Newby was born, in September 1996, his parents weren't to know the impact his place of birth would ultimately have, and how being in the right place at the right time would become an important theme throughout his formative years.

Because Newby's birth was in Cork, during his father Van's two years as an economics professor at UCC, it has helped him to pursue a sporting dream, and the Utah-based 21-year-old will tomorrow become Ireland's first Winter Olympian in halfpipe skiing.

Newby’s mellow demeanour and shaggy, long blond hair fits the stereotype of a California wave-chaser as much as that of an acrobatic halfpipe skier. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Newby’s mellow demeanour and shaggy, long blond hair fits the stereotype of a California wave-chaser as much as that of an acrobatic halfpipe skier. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

While Newby, a middle child of five and the only one in the family with an Irish passport, managed to shed the baby weight that earned him the nickname 'Bubba' from his elder siblings, the moniker hasn't been as easy to shift.

Newby's mellow demeanour and shaggy, long blond hair fits the stereotype of a California wave-chaser as much as that of an acrobatic halfpipe skier, but beneath his unhurried exterior is a young man desperate to make the most of this opportunity to show the world what he can do in the green of Ireland.

Growing up in picturesque Park City, one of the many jewels in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by what the state boldly calls 'the greatest snow on earth', Newby cannot remember a time when winter sports did not form a sturdy life pillar.

Playgrounds

However, having such fluid access to one of the greatest winter playgrounds in the world is not the sole reason for him developing into an Olympian.

Seeing the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City at such close quarters, with the skiing and snowboarding taking place in Park City's two major resorts, ignited an Olympic fire.

However, it wasn't until halfpipe skiing was introduced in Sochi four years ago that the affable Newby began to see a pathway to such lofty goals.

The Irish passport, and the grants and World Cup competitions it qualifies him for, gave him another leg-up onto the chair lift.

"Being surrounded by all that in 2002 was something that really pushed it in my head that it was something that I really wanted to do," Newby explains with a fitting Utah drawl.

"It's something that I never really planned on doing professionally because growing up, halfpipe was never part of the Olympics, so I never thought I'd make it doing anything like that.

"Being an Irish skier, the only Irish halfpipe rider, I don't have to fight against people for a World Cup spot, so I just have to qualify for it, and being on the World Cup (series) has helped a lot, for sure."

Halfpipe skiing is one of the more dangerous events at the Games, which is quite the accolade when you consider the inherent risks that accompany so many of the disciplines on show in Pyeongchang.

But halfpipe skiing provides a rush for Newby that few other pursuits can match.

"Halfpipe is one of the most terrifying things, for sure," he says. "It's really scary. I love it, though. I love the way it scares you, I love the way it makes you feel.

"It makes me push myself hard - I've got to be fully invested in stuff before I can try it because it is really high-risk.

"It's the opposite of aerials and mogul skiing, where you have to do a trick, it looks a certain way and you're trying to look exactly like that.

"In halfpipe skiing you can do anything you want; you can do some crazy trick that nobody does; or if you do a trick that everybody does, you can do it your own way, and put your own style on it.

"I can do a couple of tricks that don't really make sense physics-wise. I've got this one where I'll do a trick, and I start spinning left and, once I get upside down I twist my body around and finish it spinning to the right, which doesn't really makes sense. It's weird. I like doing stuff that don't make sense."

Of course, when you are playing at such a high-stakes table, you're bound to cop a few heavy losses.

And when you're regularly flying back towards the compacted snow from about 30 feet in the air, all while trying to get your body facing the right way round just in time for landing, there is nowhere to hide when things go awry.

Helmets are compulsory, but the dreaded 'C' word that is dominating modern sporting parlance remains a serious issue and for good reason, as Newby, unfortunately, knows far too well.

"I've blown both of my shoulders before, I had to get my right one fixed and then I've separated my left one multiple times," adds Newby, who works two jobs in the winter to help fund his sporting ambitions, in a ski shop and as a ski instructor.

"The worst injuries I've got have been the head injuries, though. The concussions… I got one about a year and a half ago and I'm still feeling the effects from that.

"There are certain things that I used to be able to do that I can't really do any more.

"Reading is tough. I used to read a lot but now after that head injury, I'll look at a page and read half of it, forget everything I just read, the words will just kind of shift a little bit. I'm hoping it goes away.

"I'm glad head injuries are getting the attention they are because for the longest time it's been a case of, 'You hit your head? Shake it off and get back in there', and it really is something that can mess someone up for a long time, as I'm figuring out."

Newby is feeling healthier these days, and right on cue too, with qualifying for the men's halfpipe starting in the early hours of Tuesday morning Irish time, and no matter the result, at just 21 years of age, he is hoping this is just the beginning.

Once he gets back to the familiar surroundings of Park City, after a hectic year of competitions across the world, he will spend some welcome time with his beloved dog Koda and his close-knit family.

Exploits

He is already looking forward to teaching his college professor father a few new things on the halfpipe, while the family's ties to Ireland, and more specifically Cork, will have been tightened further by his exploits in South Korea.

"In hindsight I'm very grateful for the timing of my birth," he says. "Skiing has given me opportunities that I never would have had otherwise.

"I probably never would have gone to South Korea. It's given me the chance to do stuff that I never would have dreamed I'd have been able to do, so I'm really thankful for everything and all the opportunities it's given me.

"My parents always said they didn't know why they really chose where to go, they had a few opportunities to go places but ever since I started skiing they're kind of like, 'that's why we were in Cork, for sure'."

Skiers glide down the U-shaped halfpipe, performing jumps and tricks off the 22-foot walls on either side as they bid to impress the five judges.

Each competitor is marked out of a possible 100 points, with height, turn, technique and trick difficulty among the most important factors in the scoring.

Skiers have two runs in qualifying and three runs in the final, and their highest score is the one that counts.

Halfpipe skiing is a relatively new event in the Winter Olympics, having only been introduced in Sochi four years ago.

US duo David Wise and Maddie Bowman are the respective reigning men's and women's Olympic champions.

Halfpipe Explained

Skiers glide down the U-shaped halfpipe, performing jumps and tricks off the 22-foot walls on either side as they bid to impress the five judges.

Each competitor is marked out of a possible 100 points, with height, turn, technique and trick difficulty among the most important factors in the scoring.

Skiers have two runs in qualifying and three runs in the final, and their highest score is the one that counts.

Halfpipe skiing is a relatively new event in the Winter Olympics, having only been introduced in Sochi four years ago.

US duo David Wise and Maddie Bowman are the respective reigning men’s and women’s Olympic champions.

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