Family enjoys watching VanLaanen chasing Olympic dream

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 14, 2013 

Bellingham resident Allain VanLaanen said she still marvels every time she sees her daughter, Olympic freeskiing hopeful Angeli VanLaanen, compete.

"It's awe inspiring," Allain said. "It makes me so proud of her. Secretly, I've always tried to get a skateboard off the ground. To watch this generation, they have a completely different relationship with gravity than my generation does. People of my age wonder how they get off the ground and get so much air and have the board or skis stick to their feet. It's just so hard to understand."

Hard to understand, yes.

Hard to watch, not as much as you might think.

Though there are definite dangers as competitors catch bigger and bigger air in events such as women's halfpipe skiing, which Angeli is attempting to qualify in for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Allain said she has the ultimate trust in her daughter's ability to pull off the next big trick.

"Sometimes as a mom, it's hard to support extreme sports," said Allain, who has lived in Bellingham for 32 years and owns, operates and teaches at Forest Garden, a local landscape design company. "I think one time, I was at the X-Games pipe, and somebody asked, 'How could you allow your kids to do that?' I think if early on kids learn safety measures and how to take care of themselves, that's what's important. Angeli has such a strong constitution and strong will, and she's been able to train like an athlete."

Sure, there have been injuries along the way. Allain said Angeli has had a broken wrist, a broken collarbone and a couple of concussions, but Allain said Angeli is a bit of a gym rat, helping her get ready for the demands of a sport that pushes competitors to test themselves more and more.

And she said the nervousness of watching her daughter soar a couple stories above a packed halfpipe of ice and snow has never kept her away from the bottom.

"It's pretty wild being at the bottom of the pipe," Angeli's older brother Cachaulo said in a phone interview. "It's amazing watching her compete. She is one of the most dedicated people to this sport. She understands it's a mix of being strong mentally and physically. To watch her succeed in person, it makes me really proud. I'm only nervous because I want to see her succeed. There's apprehension, and then I see the outcome, and I'm just so excited."

In fact, being there in person is actually easier in some ways, the VanLaanens said.

Cachaulo said he had a difficult time staying focused on work while watching qualifying on Wednesday, Dec. 11, for the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., via the Internet.

"I wasn't even in the crowd, but I was going nuts," said Cachaulo, who is a mechanical engineer in San Diego. "I had the screen open at work, and every 15 minutes or so I would refresh, and I was like so excited where she stood. Her score would come up, and then they'd start to have weather. It was just nuts. Mentally, I always had it in the back of my mind all day. I was happy to see she did really, really well. I'm such a proud older brother."

Angeli ended up earning the top qualifying spot on Wednesday, and finished second on Friday, Dec. 13, in the first of five qualifying events for the Olympics.

Like her son, Allain is glued to the computer or the TV whenever her daughter is competing and she can't be there, especially now that a trip to Russia could be on the line.

"I try to make it as often as I can, but sometimes your schedule just doesn't work," Allain said. "I'm very thankful for all the social media that allows you to link up and watch your kids at the top of the hill in Spain or wherever. You're not there, but you're still watching them with white knuckles on the desk top or counter or wherever you are."

Allain said she hopes to make it to a few of the Olympic qualifying events over the next five weeks, and if Angeli makes it through to the Olympics, she'll find a way.

"For sure - there's no way I'd miss that," Allain said. "My poor mom is 80 years old and doesn't know if she can make it. She's been to see Angeli in the X-Games before. If I have to go on my own, that will be a big task, but not one I'd want to miss."

Cachaulo and his wife are expecting the birth of their first child, a daughter, so a trip to Russia is probably out of the question, but he said he hopes to make it to one of the qualifying events if his work schedule allows.

But there's no way he'll miss the broadcast if she does qualify.

"For me, the thing that makes me most happy is when I see my family succeed in their pursuits," Cachaulo said. "I know how much this means to her and how much she put into it. Seeing her succeed would give her a sense of accomplishment - not just reaching the Olympics, but overcoming everything she has to get there. I'm so proud of how far she has come."

Especially when you consider Cachaulo and Allain both played a huge role in getting Angeli started on her quest to reach that goal with the family trips they made up to Mt. Baker Ski Area.

It's an experience the family still likes to replicate whenever the opportunity presents itself.

"When you're skiing, it's just you and the mountain, you and nature," Allain said. "I don't think there is anything more fun than to ski with your children, especially mine. It's so neat to watch them go over to the side and do a 360 or something. It amazing to watch the things the two of them can do."

Reach David Rasbach at david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2286.

Reach DAVID RASBACH at david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2271.

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