Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Sports vernacular is full of weightless words. It’s also full of unfair monikers like “The Next Big Thing.”
But that’s what happens in sports now. Athletes in just about every sport are picked out at a young age and deemed stars, most before they even hit their teenage years. College basketball coaches get verbal commitments from eighth-graders. Even some middle school sport programs take part in recruiting battles similar to Division I college programs.
Some athletes make it, but a large portion burn on out on their respective sports or just don’t live up to what people thought they would be.
Then, there is the interesting case of Steamboat snowboarder Maddy Schaffrick.
Schaffrick, 17, was deemed “The Next Big Thing” years ago in the halfpipe.
At age 11, she was doing the Sports Illustrated for Kids Next Snow Search All-Stars competition. She competed at the X Games at age 14. At 15, she narrowly missed making the Winter Olympics.
It’s been an unfair thing Schaffrick has had to carry around with her. Coaches, parents and the media all can be guilty of heaving expectations on a young athlete. And ever since Schaffrick first started snowboarding, those expectations have followed her and grown with each competition she won.
It hasn’t always been easy for Schaffrick. Sometimes it’s been downright difficult. She’s had to grow up faster than normal.
“The toughest part wasn’t having to grow up,” she said Friday. “It was having to come back here after already feeling like I grew up.”
Shaffrick, however, has learned a lot about herself in the past year. Judging from her most recent performances — a second-place finish at the U.S. Grand Prix and fourth place at the Dew Tour — Schaffrick is one athlete who actually will live up to the hype.
Schaffrick still has fun with her sport. She hasn’t let the expectations and pressure override the joy of simply snowboarding.
In her recent events, she painted her face before the finals to depict a tiger at the Grand Prix and a leopard at the Dew Tour. Now that sounds like a 17-year-old girl still having fun with snowboarding.
Although Schaffrick isn’t the top name in her sport right now — that still probably goes to Gretchen Bleiler or Kelly Clark — she is not far from becoming a household name.
Schaffrick is pushing the sport and living up to her lofty status set years ago.
She is no longer “The Next Big Thing.”
After years of expectations, Schaffrick has officially arrived.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com