VanLaanen finally returns to Bellingham

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 24, 2014 

BELLINGHAM — Bellingham Olympian Angeli VanLaanen may have returned from Sochi, Russia, a couple of months ago, but it wasn’t until Tuesday, May 20, that she actually returned home.

“I figured this was perfect timing,” VanLaanen said in a phone interview. “It was something that I wanted to do for a while. So on Tuesday, I officially moved back to Bellingham.”

Though she’s always considered Bellingham — the town where she grew up before graduating from Bellingham High School in 2004 — home, she’d actually lived in Colorado or Utah since she left to pursue a career in skiing.

“I loved being in Utah and all the opportunities that it gave me, but I felt pretty landlocked,” VanLaanen said. “The coast was calling me. I love being here in Bellingham, where I’m close to the mountain I grew up skiing (Mt. Baker Ski Area) and close to the coast. I missed this community and the people here so much.”

VanLaanen said she’s looking forward to visiting some her of favorite shops and restaurants and enjoying some her summertime activities she’s missed, such as visiting Boulevard Park, the Saturday Farmers Market or watching movies at the Fairhaven Village Green.

And on Saturday, May 24, she was invited to participate in the Ski to Sea Blossom Time Grand Parade.

"Getting invited to participate in such a big event like this in your hometown, it's an unbelievable honor," VanLaanen said on Thursday, May 22. "I can't wait to say thank you to all those people that supported me. It's going to be such a thrill to wave and say thank you. People in Bellingham have given me such support."

But don’t take VanLaanen’s move back to Bellingham as a sign that the 28-year old is done skiing.

Quite the contrary.

“I can’t say I spent a ton of time in Utah when I lived there,” VanLaanen said. “I spent a lot of time traveling and training and competing all over the world. In this business, you follow the snow. … I’m excited to in Bellingham and to call it home, but I’m still going to travel wherever I need to go.”

A little over three months ago, it took her to Russia for the Winter Olympic debut of the women’s freeski halfpipe event.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” VanLaanen said. “It had it’s ups and downs like any other super important moment in your life. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch my friends and other athletes go through it at different times before I competed, and that was really helpful.”

Once her turn to compete finally did arrive, VanLaanen comfortably made it through the qualifying runs, but three tricks into her first run in the final, she took a hard, face-first fall while attempting to land the second of back-to-back 540s (three complete rotations).

She started her second run with the bridge of her nose bandaged, but showed no fear, as she again attempted and landed the back-to-back 540s, but caught an edge while landing the next trick, scrubbing off her speed and ending her chance to finish in the medals.

Despite any disappointment, VanLaanen still flashed her winning smile after finishing 11th overall.

"I put it all out there and I did my best," VanLaanen said. "It was an awesome feeling — the training and everything and waiting to compete. It was a big moment for our event, and I was so excited to be a part of it all. To be a part of it with my friends and family and for Sarah Burke and all our other friends who couldn't be there — I felt so many emotions at once.

"I was able, even with the falls, just to be able to enjoy the moment, no matter what came after that."

What came after that, VanLaanen said, is she took some time to heal a knee injury she sustained, before she got back in the gym and started training and before she started getting ready for the move to Bellingham.

But before she made that move, VanLaanen said she got the opportunity to make a couple of stops.

One of them was New York for a gala as part of Lyme Awareness Month — a movement near and dear to VanLaanen's heart after her long battle with Lyme disease before she was diagnosed and had to step away from skiing for three years for treatment.

She also made a pair of stops in California — one in Hollywood to film a segment about Lyme disease on the Hallmark Channel's Home and Family, which aired earlier this month.

VanLaanen said she also made a stop in San Francisco for LymeLight Foundation event, where she got a chance to meet some of the young people who have received grants from the foundation.

"We've been able to make a huge impact on the lives of a number of kids and families through the LymeLight Foundation," VanLaanen said. "It was really an awesome event, because we got to meet those families. It was really special. There have been so many cool opportunities since the Olympics."

While at the Olympics, VanLaanen said she also had a number of special moments.

Just as she planned, VanLaanen said she made it to a number of different events other than her own.

"It was definitely a highlight being a fan," VanLaanen said. "I watched so many events, I actually had to tone it down a little because I was staying up too late at nights to watch some of the events. Downhill skiing was the one that I was most impressed with. It was such a challenging course in Sochi. They had one turn you had to do in the air. I was talking with some of the athletes, and they don't get to take more than a few training runs on it. It really blew my mind, because it was a completely different way of training."

But VanLaanen said it was the Russian people that made the biggest impact on her.

"One day, I was walking back from the chair lift to the athletes' village," VanLaanen said. "I was taking the path, and these two teenagers that were volunteering that came up to me and asked me and asked if they could help with my skis. We chatted on the way so they could practice their English, and they asked me about my sport. It was such a wonderful experience.

"I had the same thing happen nearly every single day. They all had a lot of enthusiasm. They were wonderful people, and they made me feel great. It didn't matter if I had a good day or a bad day practicing, they were always there with a smiling face, helping me with my gear or sharing a story. That was definitely my favorite memory."

The Russian teenage volunteers weren't the only ones to show support for VanLaanen.

She said she got an incredible amount of support from friends, family and other Bellingham residents.

"It meant so much on so many levels," VanLaanen said. "So many people believed in me, it was heart warming. There were times that it got quite lonely on the road to Sochi. ... It can be a pretty intense career, but it's so wonderful to have that support and the letters from home. It lifted my spirits and made me realize how special this place really is."

And as of Tuesday, it's once again a place VanLaanen can call home.

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