It hasnt always been easy, but Angeli VanLaanen found a way to get it done.
VanLaanen, a 2004 graduate of Bellingham High School who learned how to ski on the slopes at Mt. Baker Ski Area, achieved her Olympic-sized dream of qualifying for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, on Saturday, Jan. 18.
And she did it in impressive fashion, winning the womens halfpipe on the second day of competition at the VISA U.S Freeskiing Grand Prix in Park City, Utah. The win couldnt have come at a better time, as Saturday marked the fifth and final qualifying event the U.S. Ski Team is using to pick the squad it will send to Sochi when the freeskiing events of halfpipe and slopestyle are contested at the Olympics for the first time next month.
Im on top of the world right now, VanLaanen told usfreeskiing.com. I just went out and skied my best, and it felt amazing to land my run, and its a dream come true to be on the team on Sochi.
VanLaanen scored an 88.20 on her first run Saturday, which was good enough to hold off the competition. Her second podium finish among the qualifying events -- she also placed second at the first qualifying event in December at Breckenridge, Colo. -- secured her Olympic spot along with California natives Maddie Bowman and Brita Sigourney. The rest of the first-ever U.S. Olympic team for slopestyle and halfpipe skiing was to be nominated during a ceremony later Saturday night.
It means the world to me to be a part of this inaugural team going to Sochi for the first Olympics that were included in, VanLaanen said. So many people have put so much into making this sport get to this level where were included. So, its an honor.
The Opening Ceremony for the Sochi Olympics is scheduled for Feb. 7, with the womens halfpipe competition scheduled for Feb. 20. The Closing Ceremony will be Feb. 23.
VanLaanen, whose mother Allain still lives in Bellingham, becomes the fourth Bellingham-born Olympian, the citys first female Olympic athlete and the first to compete in the Winter Olympics. She will be the first native Bellinghamster to represent the United States at the Olympics since Fred Luke competed in the javelin at the 1972 Munich Games.
Saturdays win had to be particularly gratifying for VanLaanen, as it capped off what had been a relatively rough week on the slopes near where she now makes her home in Utah.
Nearly six hours before competition on Saturday, VanLaanen sent out an Instagram photo of herself in an ice tub.
After a nasty crash in practice Thursday, I was cleared by docs yesterday to ski through the pain, VanLaanen wrote. Gearing up to ski my heart out to earn that spot to Sochi! Grateful for this opportunity, still smiling!
Her pain wasnt helped on Friday, Jan. 17, during the first Grand Prix final at Park City though, as she took falls on both of her competition runs, according to Saturdays web cast, and ended up placing 14th.
But she put the pain and the falls behind her and turned in a sparkling first run with lots of big air, giving her more than a 13-point lead over her nearest competitor. Her run included a big critical grab, leftside 540 mute, rightside 540 safety, leftside 720, switch 360, straight-air mute and an alley-oop 360, according to usfreeskiing.com.
She had a highlight-reel second run going that possibly could have even improved her score until she had her skis slip out from under her while landing her final trick.
But her first-run score stood up, even when Sigourney laid down a sparkling 83.00 on the second to last run of the day.
It was after that run that VanLaanen learned that she had locked up her spot on the Olympic team. One run later, she found out she also had the win -- her first since a 2009 World Cup Superpipe win at Park City and her fifth overall, according to her resume at angelivanlaanen.com.
Devin Logan finished third with an 80.00, while Annalisa Drew was fourth with a score of 75.00, as Americans swept the top four spots.
Saturdays win capped off an epic comeback for VanLaanen, who returned to the sport last year after a three-year absence so that she could receive treatment for Lyme disease, an ailment she contracted after being bitten by a tick when she was just 10 and went undiagnosed for 15 years until November of 2009. VanLaanen has since become a spokesperson for the LymeLight Foundation and even helped raise money for LymeLife, a documentary about her battle to help raise awareness about the disease.
And now VanLaanen hopes the Olympics will help her inform even more people about the disease.
"It would be an incredible honor as an athlete and a human to be able to go," Angeli said in a December interview. "As an activist, I'd get a chance to tell my story to more people and spread the work about Lyme disease and the effects it can have on people. Having a platform like that is bigger than myself. It would be the ultimate triumph over Lyme disease."
By qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the womens freeski halfpipe, Angeli VanLaanen becomes the fourth Bellingham-born Olympian. She is also the first female and the first Winter Olympian who was born in Bellingham. Other Olympians from the City of Subdued Excitement:
Athlete Born Olympics Sport Finish
Paul Jessup 1908 1932 (Los Angeles) Discus Eighth
Roy Rubin 1941 1960 (Rome) Mens Coxed Fours (Rowing) Seventh
Fred Luke 1946 1972 (Munich) Javelin Eighth