With a career spanning nearly two decades, Kelly Clark has become the winningest snowboarder ever. She’s also the most decorated Olympic snowboarder, with one gold medal (2002) and two bronze medals (2010 and 2014) in her collection. Now being pushed in the halfpipe by girls half her age, Clark is still going strong at age 34 as she tries to qualify for her fifth Olympic team.
Earlier this year, we sent Clark a list of questions. Here’s what she had to say.
What are some of your earliest memories of snowboarding?
I started snowboarding in 1990, the first year it was even allowed at my mountain. I did have a defining moment in 1998. I had recorded the snowboarding event from [the] Nagano [Olympics] on a VHS tape. I watched it after school, and even though it was pouring rain and pretty limited coverage of the halfpipe event, I decided then and there that this is what I wanted to give my life to.
Did you imagine yourself being an Olympian one day?
I started snowboarding before it was cool. It was not an Olympic sport, and there was no such thing as the X Games. I never saw it as a dream until snowboarding became an Olympic sport.
Did your parents support this career choice?
My dad always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, and I believed him. They always supported me, but pursuing athletics always comes with risk. I had one year to prove to my parents that I could make snowboarding a career — that was the year I won the Olympics.
Did anyone ever tell you that you wouldn’t be able to succeed in snowboarding?
Yes. People have been more talented than me my whole life. I just try to keep working and keep investing in my sport and my career. I try to make the most of the opportunities I have.
Who has been your greatest influence within snowboarding?
[Norwegian snowboarder] Anne Molin Kongsgaard. She showed me what was possible to do on a snowboard as a woman. So I aspired to walk in her footsteps.
Do you consider yourself to have any rivals?
I don’t look to my competitors as rivals — it’s not part of my competitive approach. People I compete with are inspiring, but I try to stay focused on my goals and approach.
Have you become close friends with any of your international competitors?
Torah Bright is my closest friend from another country that I compete with.
How much time do you spend training each day?
In the lead up to the last Olympics, I spent about 25 hours a week doing my workout programs.
What’s a typical training day like?
It varies every week. It’s a mix of two strength days, four cardio days, four days of core, two days of agility and five days of mobility. I ride my road bike and run stairs often, and take one day off a week.
What has been the most serious injury of your career?
I had a hip injury last year. I tore my labrum and hamstring in a crash at X Games. The end of my femur needed to be reshaped as well. I had surgery March 14th of 2016. I was off snow for the longest I have ever been off snow — eight months. I had to start slow and trust the rehab process. I just stuck to my program and was back riding at events 10 months later. Eleven months later, I won my first contest since the surgery and feel healthier than I have been in years. This last year was all about rehab. I am looking forward to having this year be about gaining strength and progressing my riding.
Do you have any fears while competing?
I don’t incorporate fear in my competitive approach. I don’t think it’s healthy.
Tell us about your pet.
I have a golden retriever named Iris. My family grew up breeding goldens and I have been waiting for the right time to get one of my own. During my hip surgery recovery, I had nine months off and could spend the time needed to help her grow up. I have an active lifestyle and she is pretty much just on my program — hiking, camping, swimming, boating, etc.
What other sports do you enjoy?
I love golf. I find snowboarding to be like it. It is an individual sport with ever-changing conditions. And even though you can have a good shot once in a while that makes it all worth it, it is impossible to master — just like snowboarding.
Do you collect anything?
Just my competition bibs. I have every bib from every event I have ever done. Well over 200.
What’s been the most special place you’ve traveled to?
I enjoy going to Japan. The people are amazing, as well as the snowboarding and food.
Building furniture, working in my yard. My life is non-traditional, so the basic things around the yard and making things out of wood, I enjoy the simplicity of it all.
Favorite TV shows?
Friends, Gilmore Girls, Fixer Upper.
I have learned that the Olympics are not to be treated as a destination, nor should they be something that defines you.
What charities do you support?
I started my own foundation. We help kids get out on the hill who can not afford to try snowboarding. We have helped high level athletes pursue their snowboarding dreams.
What advice would you give to a young snowboarder just starting out?
Enjoy the journey and don’t get too wrapped up in the accomplishments. And figure out who you are apart from what you do.
What will success look like for you in PyeongChang?
Well, success for me looks like being faithful with my opportunities. I have learned that the Olympics are not to be treated as a destination, nor should they be something that defines you. I hope to make the U.S. team and enjoy my time there. And my goal is always the same at the Olympics — go for it. I will give it my all and leave it all out there.