John F. Russell: Honoring Erica’s spirit |

John F. Russell: Honoring Erica’s spirit

— It's hard to catch former World Cup snowboarder Erica Mueller without a smile on her face.

I've seen her radiant smile as she raced through the gates of the parallel giant slalom course set on Howelsen Hill, I've seen it while talking to her at the bottom of a hill after a race, and I've seen it just about every time I've bumped into her in Steam­boat Springs.

Twice, she made runs at the Olympics, and twice she came up just short. But I've never heard her complain about a race. When Erica learned that her bid for the 2010 Olympics had failed earlier this winter, I called her to get her reaction and to find out what she was planning for the future.

My instincts told me she would be gracious, but I still feared the worst.

But when Erica picked up the phone, she was pleasant, happy and willing to talk. She may have been disappointed, but there was no frustration reflected in her words. She didn't point to a lack of support for the U.S. team; she didn't fall back on injuries or blame her equipment.

She talked about her accomplishments, her success, and told me it was time to move on with her life.

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She wasn't sad about it; instead, she was thankful that she had an opportunity to race at the World Cup level and that she had taken a shot at becoming an Olympian.

I can't say for sure because I talked to her on the phone, but my guess it that there was a smile on her face.

Last week, the membership of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club came together to celebrate another successful year with its end-of-season awards night at Olympian Hall.

Erica was there to watch as dozens of athletes were honored with a number of awards during the evening, but she was not there to pick up a plaque.

Erica was asked to present Will Peddie the Snowboard Spirit Award, and shortly after she finished, Jon Casson, snowboard program director for the Winter Sports Club, stepped to the microphone and made an announcement that made everyone smile.

He presented Erica one of the most fitting honors of the night by adding her name to the Snowboard Spirit Award, which will be known as the Erica Mueller Snowboard Spirit Award from here forward.

I can't think of an athlete more deserving than Erica, who is one of the most enthusiastic athletes I've ever known. She has worked hard to achieve her goals and has continued to work hard even when her goals eluded her.

This summer, Erica will marry her fiance, Justin Reiter, and she will begin a new chapter in her life. Unfortunately, for those of us who follow her sport, Alpine snowboard racing will not be a part of Erica's future.

But you can bet that you still will find Erica racing down the slopes of steep-pitched runs on her snowboard. I also know she will be smiling as she carves out a turn, and she always will show the type of spirit it takes to be a true Olympic champion.

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