With the Winter Olympic Games opening last Friday in Sochi with the typical opening ceremony glitz, glamour and over-the-top cost (somewhere north of $52 million for what amounts to a glorified parade), I started scouring the snowy landscape for my most intriguing participant, something I do each Olympics.
Hmm, let’s see… Tiger’s girlfriend had taken herself out of the ski competition because of the knee injuries before the games even started, so I crossed her off. Since I really hadn’t heard enough about any other participants that captured my attention, I wound up going back to the same athlete who first intrigued me in 2006 at the Turin games in Italy.
Shawn White, also known as The Flying Tomato, is now 27 years old and continues to execute a craft on a snowboard that one day will be far beyond what his body will endure. Whenever I think of him, my mind conjures memories of a couple former students of mine, Tom and David, from at least two decades ago. They were boys who always were chased off the front steps and railings of Memorial High School in St. Marys after school on warm-weather days, at least until the main office personnel went home for the day.
While I tried to move my way through another pile of writing assignments at my desk after school as the clock nudged its way toward 5 — long after anyone from the main office was left to tell them that the sign that said, “No skateboarding on school property” was intended for them — I’d hear the swishes and the clacks of their boards’ wheels. I also remember growing annoyed when I thought the chances were good that these young fellas would arrive to class the next day without their homework on Hawthorne done, although they would come in with the knowledge of a new trick they’d learned on their boards.
I often thought, “What a waste of time, that skateboarding hobby. No matter how good anyone would ever get, what possible upside could there be?” However, what I didn’t factor in at that time was the emergence of Shawn White’s inspiration, Tony Hawk, the first action athlete to cash in, to the current tune of, according to the website NetWorth, $120 million. Additionally, what I couldn’t have envisioned was the transition so many of these skateboarders like White would make from skateboarding to snowboarding.
After White, at 9 years old, met Hawk, his idol, he threw himself into skateboarding, eventually becoming the only skater ever to land something called a “body varial frontside 540,” which must have caused some young amply haired boarder to exclaim, “Totally rad.”
White’s transition to snowboarding was well established by the time he won gold in Turin in ’06 and again at the Vancouver Games in ’10. Additionally, White has also earned gold in both skateboarding and snowboarding with regularity in the X-Games since 2002.
Born in San Diego, White, before he was 5 years old, had two surgeries to correct a congenital heart defect. And, while he hasn’t reached Tony Hawk’s net-worth level yet, White is quite comfortable, according to NetWorth, around $20 million worth of comfortable, thanks in large part to a clothing line, a signature video game and a company he started that sells skateboards, BMX bikes and other sports-action equipment.
Really, I don’t think about the dare devil with the flaming red hair much between Olympics, except when he does something extraordinarily stupid. One such time was in September 2012 when, during a stay at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, he apparently forgot the maternal admonition that has been in place since the Ice Age, which is little good ever happens after midnight.
It was a little after that magical hour fraught with all sorts of bad decision-making that White destroyed a phone, pulled a fire alarm and, while attempting to flee, fell and hit his head on a fence, resulting in quite a shiner and, no doubt, accompanying headache, a liberal dose of embarrassment and charges filed for vandalism and public intoxication for his panic-inducing lapse in judgment. I remember thinking that “The Tomato,” at 26 and already a millionaire, should have considered bed as a better option.
I thought of him again last month, right before the Aspen X-Games that I’ll watch in dribs and drabs on ESPN after I found out that he withdrew from his events, albeit reluctantly, to focus on his preparations for the Sochi games.
So, here he is again, having wormed into my consciousness along with the accompanying thought as to how many more years he has left when he’ll physically be able to launch himself into space on either skateboard or snowboard. Then, I suppose, a transition to extreme-sports broadcaster will be as seamless as it was for him to go from skateboard to snowboard.
Somewhere, I’m sure there are a couple former Roughriders named Tom and David, men now in their late 30s or early 40s, who will probably see White’s events as must-see TV.
After all, I’m guessing that a couple decades of time passage hasn’t made Hawthorne any more appealing to them than it was back when they were trying to jump four cement steps and land without falling at the front entrance of a building that no longer stands.