JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Breezy Johnson was 11 years old when she met current World Cup points leader Mikaela Shiffrin at the Whistler Cup in Canada.
Johnson and Shiffrin were two of six Americans who qualified to compete in the competitive international event. The two shared a condo together during the race, and Johnson came away from the experience a fan of Shiffrin.
“Breezy was really, really impressed with Mikaela because she won all the races,” said Heather Noble, Johnson’s mother. “She was amazing even then. Breezy came back from that experience saying she wanted to go to Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont because that’s where Mikaela went. She was just all high on Burke.”
Johnson, who lives in Victor, Idaho, continued skiing for the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club while contemplating whether to take her talents to a ski academy for high school. But her parents weren’t sold on sending her 2,000 miles away to the East Coast.
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Before Johnson’s freshman year Noble was at a banquet for the Western Region Championships when she began discussing Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City with a coach from the school. Noble learned about the school and the ski program and figured that sending her daughter to Utah made more sense than sending her to Vermont.
“When we were thinking about sending her to Salt Lake, I said, ‘Well, heck, I could go get her on a long weekend.’ Same time zone. Not far away. It was easy by comparison.”
Johnson spent her four years of high school at Rowmark with the intention of competing with the likes of Shiffrin for a long time to come. She began to impress her new coaches the moment she arrived on campus.
Todd Brickson was Johnson’s coach her first two years at Rowmark, and he said Johnson was more driven than anyone in the program.
“The determination and the work ethic were second to none,” Brickson told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “She was very focused, very determined. And her physical attributes … she’s just really strong. That combination, when you see that, you knew she had a good chance to be special.”
Johnson’s father, Greg, was an alpine racer during his heyday and competed in downhill like his daughter. Greg and Brickson each saw the same hard-working characteristic in Breezy that helped mold her into one of the world’s top downhillers.
“She could probably beat up her brother,” Greg said with a laugh. “She is strong. She has an incredible training regimen. She’s dedicated and determined. She’s a racehorse.”
Johnson had the body, the training and the background to be the best. Her former Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club coach Jon Souter said she also possessed the mental ability to make the most of her many tools.
“She thrived with pressure and competition at a young age,” Souter said. “That’s not something everyone enjoys and likes. She liked being in the starting gate. She liked the stresses that came with race day.
“In speed events you have to be going fast, maybe be a little out of control, and want to go faster,” he said. “She had that. It’s one of those things that’s hard to teach. It’s hard to train someone to be going really fast and want to go faster.”
Johnson’s tenacity has paid off. At 22 she could be the youngest skier on the U.S. team to receive a start in South Korea. She has jumped in the world downhill rankings to 14th, a year after finishing 18th in her debut season of World Cup competition.
Noble said she never knew what type of athlete her daughter would eventually become, but she’s not surprised by what her daughter has done.
“She gets so determined,” Noble said. “You give her a goal and she just focuses on it. It feels like with sheer determination she can do it. This year it was about going to the Olympics.”
Of the 10 women named to the U.S. Alpine Olympic team, 20 percent are Ski and Snowboard Club alums. Johnson joins the squad with three-time Olympian Resi Stiegler, who is thrilled that Jackson Hole will continue to be represented at the Olympics for a long time to come.
“I’m stoked for Breezy,” Stiegler said. “I’m proud of her for qualifying. She’s still pretty young, so she has a lot of Olympics to go. I think that the most important thing for her is just to know that she’ll be around for the next couple and to take this all in and really enjoy it, do it right. Enjoy the event and appreciate how hard you’ve worked.”
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com