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U.S. Olympic snowboarder Kelly Clark watched as the monstrous avalanche moved down the hill, gaining speed and force. Inside that powdery mass of uncontrollable snow was her friend and fellow snowboarder. Kelly unstrapped her boots from her snowboard and ran—shouting and praying—to the area where her friend would most likely be deposited. Kelly had gone down the mountain first, and she was the first person on the scene. Thoughts raced through her brain: Dig her out, resuscitate her—bring her back from the dead, if necessary.
Kelly had to move quickly. When the snow swallows a body whole, only a few seconds separate life from death. Kelly thought of the science behind an avalanche. The melting, refreezing, and new fallen snow create layers that are unable to bond together, so they move and slide over each other. Snow on the side of a mountain can become an avalanche from the addition of one simple factor: a person moving down the snow.
"You can prepare as much as you can, you can be as smart as you can, and you can be educated and take as many safety courses as possible; but when it comes to backcountry snowboarding, sometimes that isn't enough," said Kelly. "You are out there in nature, and you can't control everything."
Kelly and her friend were backcountry snowboarding in New Zealand. Together with their guide, they'd flown to the location by helicopter and been dropped off on the mountaintop. Kelly was the first one down, navigating trees, rocks, crevasses, and cliffs—all the rugged features you'd expect to find on a snow-covered mountain.
Before their run, they'd flown over the area by helicopter and checked the zone from the air. They took photos, looked at the lines they wanted to run, and carefully planned where they wanted to go. They planned well; and in doing so, they also planned for the possibility of things going badly.
"You think about everything, and this area looked to be the safest of the day," said Kelly. While she admits she's done some sketchy stuff in the past with crevasses and ice cliffs where bad things definitely could have happened, the area they chose that day seemed pretty mellow.
Kelly rode her line to the bottom and waited for her friend to do her run. "I'm watching her, and basically the unimaginable happens. Something goes wrong at the very top, which is the worst thing because you have nowhere to go but down," said Kelly. "She had a few cliffs to get over that—if you're not on your feet, they're very scary."
The event happening right before her eyes looked like something you'd see on a TV show, and Kelly felt like one of the actors. A bellowing cloud of snow moved down the mountain, and the whole time Kelly watched for her friend to see exactly where she landed and, ultimately, where to start digging. But as Kelly watched, her friend simply disappeared.
Kelly unstrapped her boots and ran. "I just started running. And all of a sudden, as the snow is settling at the bottom, and I'm [still] running, the thing just spits her out. She gets spit out at the bottom of this huge avalanche, and she is completely fine."
Watching her friend travel down the mountainside in an avalanche was by far the scariest thing Kelly Clark had ever experienced while snowboarding. Yet, even in those seconds while it was occurring, Kelly knew she could call on Jesus. "I'm glad no one was around me because I just started yelling and praying as soon as it happened. They would have thought I was nuts. I'm watching it, and without even realizing it, I'm praying and running at the same time."
People may think she's a crazy snowboarder, and Kelly admits to being a "calculated risk taker." Yet Kelly explained, "I do it at my own level and in my own comfort zone. It's a fine line to walk."
Kelly Clark is a two-time Olympic medalist, winning a gold medal for the women's halfpipe in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a bronze medal for the same event at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. In 2006, she missed the podium by just one spot, coming in fourth in the women's halfpipe at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
As the winningest female snowboarder, Kelly recently laid down a streak of sixteen wins going back to 2011. Her winning streak ended when she came in second at the Burton U.S. Open in March 2012. The competition was held in her home state of Vermont, where she has a huge fan base. If she was going to break a streak, home was as good a place as any, according to Kelly. At least in Vermont she would be loved, win or lose.
But more important than all of the medals she's earned—and there have been many—Kelly Clark counts herself a Christian. Just like it happened with snowboarding, she didn't start out that way— but it's where she finds herself today. And she's happy to be there.
Kelly Lauren Clark was born on July 26, 1983, in Newport, Rhode Island. She has a brother, Tim, who is five years older. As a baby Kelly was quiet. She rarely cried and always "went with the flow," said her father, Terry Clark. Her first word was Im, for her brother Tim. She took her first steps at nine months. And then she learned how to ski.
Kelly hit the slopes for the first time at the age of two, and she took to skiing with ease. "Outside activities in Vermont are very important," said her dad, an avid skier. "Skiing is my life in sports."
The fast, unknown craze of snowboarding hit Kelly when she was seven years old and tried snowboarding for the first time in Stowe, Vermont. On that day Kelly's father realized she had a gift of balance. He recognized very early on that Kelly was special when it came to snowboarding—the sport that she would one day come to rule.
Kelly and her family lived in Rhode Island until she was seven. "It was a small city—you could ride your bike down to the corner store and walk downtown," said Kelly. Eventually, the family moved to the village of West Dover in Dover, Vermont, where they owned TC's Family Restaurant.
Now they spent their summers living on a boat anchored off Block Island, near Newport, Rhode Island, and their winter months at Mount Snow in West Dover. "We constantly did weekend trips throughout the whole winter between Rhode Island and Vermont. And then eventually, when I started going to school, we ended up in Vermont full time," said Kelly.
The family spent time apart during the summers while Kelly's dad worked at the restaurant. On the day school got out for summer break— that afternoon—Kelly's mom and the two kids left for Rhode Island, and they stayed there until Labor Day when school started up again.
Fun in the sun was ingrained as a Clark tradition long before Kelly came along. "I think the week my mom had me she was at the beach," said Kelly. "When I was a kid, I pretty much lived in the water. I was at the beach all day, every day, every summer—playing, swimming, snorkeling, diving, and jumping off the dock."
During those summer months, the Clarks lived on a boat— a twenty-five-foot Bayliner. Many of Kelly's childhood friends were from Block Island, and their families were doing the same thing—spending their summers vacationing while living on a boat. Even today when Kelly goes home, the family vacation agenda usually includes spending time together on the ocean.
Kelly enjoyed small-town life in West Dover as well. "In Mount Snow, there were twelve kids in my sixth grade class, so that's a really small town," said Kelly. The town was a tourist attraction, with visitors hitting the slopes along with the locals. "I spent my weekends at the mountain in the base lodge. That's where all of my friends were, and [it's] where I hung out."
Even at this age, Kelly always wanted to hang out with her brother Tim. "I don't think he thought it was that cool to have his little sister tagging along," said Kelly. "I might have been the annoying little sister who wanted to be cool like her older brother." They had plenty of together time, hitting the mountain, hanging out and watching movies, and long car rides with the family to Florida where they did lots of surfing.
For Kelly and Tim, it was the classic big brother-little sister relationship. Tim thought having his little sister tag along was sometimes good and sometimes not so good. "I threw her down the steps in a sleeping bag once, when we were having sleeping-bag races down the stairs," said Tim. "I take credit for why she is so tough now."
Kelly called Tim a protective older brother. "If anything ever happened to me, he would step in," she said. And the guys in her life always knew that Tim was her big brother.
According to Tim, Kelly was the quiet and serious one—the "golden child." And he was the one who often got in trouble—trouble that sometimes included his sister. Like many big brothers, Tim knew he could have some fun with his little sister—even if it was at her expense. "Sometimes I think he [took] advantage of how young I was," said Kelly. "I remember one time my parents left money on the counter for something, and he convinced me that it was so I could buy candy. I spent, like, forty bucks on candy. Who would sell forty dollars [worth] of candy to a seven-year-old?" said Kelly. "It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I ended up getting in a lot of trouble. It got dramatic when my parents found out what had happened."
Tim owned up to his role as the mastermind of the candy caper, but that doesn't mean he took responsibility for it. "I blamed it on Kelly and then ate the candy," said Tim. "I used to blame a lot on my little sister."
Kelly also blamed herself for what happened. "I was partly mad that he had convinced me, and kind of mad that I had actually been silly enough to believe that."
When Tim was in college, Kelly was in junior high and high school, so they weren't as close during that time. But like their parents, Tim recognized Kelly's talent in snowboarding. He didn't know how far the sport of snowboarding would go. He didn't attend many of Kelly's snowboarding competitions in the beginning—partly due to his being away at college. But things changed when she was featured in the world's biggest competition—the Olympics.
"It was surreal and crazy that she was the best in the world. I wonder if I should have switched to snowboarding," Tim joked. He's proud of his little sister, and now that they're both adults, the two of them hang out when they can.
Excerpted from Reaching New Heights by Natalie Davis Miller Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Davis Miller. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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