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‘Femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive,’ Roz Groenewoud of the Canadian Freestyle Ski team says. (BEN NELMS/BEN NELMS)
‘Femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive,’ Roz Groenewoud of the Canadian Freestyle Ski team says. (BEN NELMS/BEN NELMS)

Freestyle skiing

Above and Beyond: Why heaven is a halfpipe for Rosalind Groenewoud Add to ...

“Femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive,”Groenewoud said.

She remembers getting teased and bullied for her tastes as a teen. Years later, meeting with Target officials at the company’s Minneapolis headquarters, Groenewoud was resolved. “I decided to be a 100-per-cent myself and they liked it – so that was cool.”

“She’s an individual who has a more unique personality and an ability to transcend her sport,” said Devin O’Brien, a Target manager who oversees the company’s marketing of athletes, of which Groenewoud is the ninth, and first Canadian. “She has a very mature approach to her sport. She approaches it like a job. And she’s keenly aware of her responsibility as a role model for young women.”

Groenewoud, born in Calgary, has always had an addiction to shedding the shackles of gravity. She was already running at 1 when some babies are just starting to walk, and her dad Leo had her in gymnastics by the time she was 2. She loved the trampoline, and one was quickly installed at the family home. She spent “hundred and hundreds” of hours on it, remembers Leo Groenewoud, an avid sportsman who told his kids – Roz has a younger brother, Luke – that they had to play three sports in a day before they could watch television.

“She liked being upside down, being swung around,” Leo Groenewoud said. “It’s the same thing she does now. It all makes sense when you look back.”

The Groenewoud’s home was a stew of art, academics and action. Roz played piano, and then classical and jazz flute. Leo put Roz on skis when she was 3 but his work as a geophysicist moved the family to Ecuador when Roz was in elementary school. Returning home to Calgary, she could speak fluent Spanish – and she quickly became obsessed with halfpipe, even if at first, at age 13, it felt like learning skiing from scratch when she got back on snow. Into high school, Roz focused on skiing, as she scored early results, but when snow melted, she sated her taste for air in pole vault, helping start a club at her high school and winning city championships in her grade level.

Academics called: Groenewoud had a $20,000 scholarship to the University of British Columbia – she dreamed of becoming a chemical engineer or an astrophysicist – but her success on skis pushed her toward a possibility that was only then emerging, one that Burke helped create, for a woman to make money, a living, on skis in the halfpipe. Groenewoud was a founding member of an unofficial national ski halfpipe team, along with Burke and led by coach Trennon Paynter – a team made official in 2011 when ski halfpipe cracked the Olympics roster.

With prospects of gold from Groenewoud and numerous other freestyle skiers and snowboarders, government has poured money in. Freestyle skiing, from aerials and moguls to newly added halfpipe and slopestyle, has received $6.9-million of money from Own the Podium in the years leading up to Sochi, the most of any sport. Snowboarding has been handed $5.9-million, the second most. “They funded our team better than we could have ever dreamed,” said halfpipe skier and medal hopeful Justin Dorey, who grew up in Vernon, B.C.

Groenewoud and the Canadian halfpipe now head back south to Colorado for several competitions, with the festival of X Games at the end of the month, followed by Olympic prep events in the mountains outside Sochi in February. Burke’s death, to some, may appear to lurk like a shadow, of risks too great to take, but for Groenewoud the memory of her mentor and friend drives her. Shanne Matthews, Roz’s mom, said, “It’s risky but they work really hard at managing risks. They’re not crazy thrill-seekers.”

At Blackcomb on Wednesday morning, Groenewoud works to nail down a trick, a flare, an inverted trick few women pull off and one that would complement her arsenal that includes a 900 – upright, yes, but 2 1/2full rotations. Like all skiers, she has been hammered by injury in her career, a collarbone the worst break, and three notable concussions. But she’s a competitor, and keeps hard it, among the last skiers making laps with the snowmobile to pull another attempt off the halfpipe in the airbag.

“If I wasn’t competing in skiing,” she said, “I’m sure I’d be competing in something else.”

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