NYT > Sports
COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – Like his mother, Brian Rice has played almost every sport.
Kat Brauer Rice, a former professional boxer who, according to Brian, was also good at basketball, softball and soccer, passed her athleticism on to her 16-year-old son. And something else: their family tradition of occasional ski trips.
Sitting side by side on the couch in their small studio apartment at the foot of the slopes of the Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado, mom and son love to talk about each other’s athletic skills and how the Rices have grown into one – Brian’s dream of becoming the first African American snowboarder to compete in the Olympics.
He was 4 years old when he started snowboarding with a cheap plastic snowboard in a ditch outside their home north of Detroit. However, it quickly became clear that Rice had a talent and passion for the sport. At the age of 11 he took part in competitions. He won every event within a year.
“I had done baseball, soccer, basketball, soccer – every sport you can think of. Nothing has given me as much fun as snowboarding, ”said Rice.
From the day Kat saw him scale the entire playground structure in preschool, Kat noticed that her son wasn’t scared and had an “innate sense of body awareness.”
This comes in handy when taking a jump the size of a five-story building, twirling and twisting several times before landing. This is the nature of snowboard competitions like Slopestyle – where athletes negotiate a series of jumps and rails – and Big Air, where their trick performance is scored with a single, massive jump.
“I was always fearless, doing what I wanted to do, riding with older kids and people who were better than me so I could learn all the tricks and get a real understanding of what it’s like to be a snowboarder” said Rice.
Usually he did this while he was the only one out there who looked like him.
“I was always the only black kid, the only black snowboarder on the hill,” he said. “As lonely as it may seem, I had all of my friends and no matter what skin color they were, it was always a great time snowboarding.”
As Rice’s skills developed and he won against tougher competition, friends of the Flyin ‘family called him Brian. He realized that he had to move to bigger mountains to become a big name in snowboarding.
Rice won a Michigan regional amateur competition at age 12 and was given the opportunity to attend a week-long camp in Colorado. The following year, he landed on the radar of coaches at Vail Ski and Snowboard Club – the organization that helped launch the careers of numerous Olympians, notably Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. He was invited to spend the winter with a homestay in Colorado to remotely do homework during training and competition.
Last summer the Rices bought the Copper Mountain studio and Kat took a full-time winter job at Village Safety Patrol at the resort while juggling the increasingly demanding role of Brian’s combined mother and manager – his “mother”.
Since winter sports are often expensive, with first-class coaching, national and international training and competitions, Kat sought financial support for Brian’s snowboarding career.
“I was literally just googling how to sponsor a black snowboarder for the Olympics,” said Kat.
She founded the National Brotherhood of Skiers, an organization of more than 3,500 members whose mission is to increase the number of colored people in snow sports, and the Jim Dandy Ski Club, an NBS subsidiary and America’s first African-American ski club, founded in was founded in 1958 and is based in Detroit. Both organizations were enthusiastic about Rice’s Olympic search.
“Funding this kind of career is not easy for a Black from the Midwest,” said Janice Jackson, president of Jim Dandy Ski Club. “Our mission was to have someone with color on the US ski and snowboard team. We had people who got close but never got there. Brian came with me, right here in our own back yard. “
In late February, Rice had one of the best results of his career – a fifth place in the US Revolution Tour Big Air competition in Aspen, Colorado. Scoring for this type of event is based on how well the athletes perform two tricks – massive jump. The day was windy and resulted in some athletes narrowing their choice of tricks and others overrotating or underrotating and falling. Reis was unshakable. He competed against some of the best snowboarders in the nation and knew he had to make it big. He threw two tricks that he had never landed before – a back 1260 (rotating backwards three and a half times) and a front 1080 (rotating forward three times).
“So that he can land those two new tricks on a day like this, break up with the pack,” said Kat.
“Yes,” added Brian. “Hard work pays off. At the end of the day, all I have to do is do myself. I have to stand up and do what I have to do.”
The teenager’s next big trick is a triple cork 1440 on the back that starts backwards and makes four full rotations while making three off-axis flips. The pull has become relatively the standard among Olympic-level snowboard champions, but Rice is content with doing one trick at a time. In doing so, he wants to show other young African Americans that traditional sports are not their only options and that even in a historically white sport like snowboarding, the sky is the limit.
“Other sports were repetitive,” said Rice. “Baseball, you hit the ball and run the bases. Soccer, you kick the ball, try to score. Soccer, you run over a guy and try to catch the ball. There is so much creativity in snowboarding. I saw from the start that I could do it myself. I could just have a free hand and have as much fun as I wanted. “
Make no mistake, he wants to go to the Olympics too.
“If I make it to the Olympics, I can stand on this podium and show the world that it doesn’t matter where you are from, what your skin color is or who your parents are. It’s all about how you get there, ”he said. “I think if I can do it, anyone can.”