February was a wild month for Julia Marino.
The Westporter won a silver medal in slopestyle snowboarding at the Beijing Olympics. She withdrew from the big air event due to injury — and promptly got embroiled in a controversy with the International Olympic Committee over it.
After a couple of days’ rest at the Sturges Highway home where she grew up, the 24-year-old flew to Milan. She hung out with other celebrities at Fashion Week — and why not? Prada is one of her sponsors.
Last weekend, she was back in Westport. As Julia caught her breath, I caught up with her.
Her backyard held many memories. As a 3-year-old, she learned to ride a bike on the tennis court. Later, her dad John helped her build a skate ramp nearby. Always, she and her younger sister Cece played in a tree fort, and on rope swings.
She also skateboarded at the Compo Beach park, and played soccer, basketball and softball in town.
After Long Lots Elementary and Bedford Middle Schools, Julia transferred to St. Joseph High in Trumbull. They accommodated her already-hectic snowboarding travel schedule — and besides, they had a powerhouse soccer team.
The Staples girls program had not yet reached its current state championship heights. But as a junior, Julia — who began playing with the Westport Soccer Association, then continued with Yankee United, CFC and Beachside — helped the Cadets win a Class L state title.
By senior year, Julia was taking her classes online. Snowboarding had become her primary sport.
It began years earlier, when Julia, Cece, John, her mother Elaine and uncle took their annual trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado. Her skis snapped on a mogul, so she spent the rest of the week snowboarding.
With encouragement from instructors — and a love for the freewheeling nature of the sport — she was soon competing. At 13, her parents signed her up for Vermont’s Stratton Mountain weekend program. She missed school every Friday — but she was hooked.
She spent the next winter at the Stratton Mountain School. The year after that, she and her father were in Colorado, where she competed and attended school.
By the time she was 16, Julia was on the national team. She traveled the world. She missed her family and home town. But there were mountains to conquer.
Which she did. Julia is a 7-time X Games medalist, and was on the US team for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
This year’s Olympic Games were different — and not just because Julia became the first US athlete to medal there, in any sport. COVID meant that families were not allowed in China. Julia’s mom, dad, sister and friends watched from half a world away, on Vivid-Tek’s huge Post Road screen.
“It was really weird. We were heavily bubbled in China. There were lots of restrictions. It would have been tough for parents,” Julia said.
But because Elaine and John had not been at most of her competitions, it was nothing new.
And though this was the Olympics — with exponentially more worldwide attention than any other event — Julia treated it as, well, just another event.
“I tried not to overthink things, or get too stressed out,” she said. Meanwhile, texts and emails from back home helped motivate her.
Despite the injury that forced her to withdraw from big air, and the controversy over the IOC’s banning of her board because of its Prada logo, she is “over the moon” with her slopestyle results.
That’s her favorite part of snowboarding, Julia said. It’s a creative event, always different and new. She loves linking all the rails together, soaring from one to the next. “I really get into a flow on the course,” she noted.
Of course, winning an Olympic medal is every athlete’s dream.
Then came her whirlwind trip to Milan. She had a great time meeting the rest of the Prada team, meeting other celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Charli D’Amelio, and strengthening connections between sports and fashion.
Soon it was back to Westport. But not for long.
Julia heads to Colorado on Friday, for a media event with Mountain Dew. Then comes Whistler, in British Columbia, for a vacation — snowboarding with friends.
Beyond that, Julia — an avid videographer — would like to make snowboarding films. “I’m close with a lot of girls from the Olympics. We talked a lot about that,” she said.
And why not? For Julia Marino — Westport’s Olympic medalist snowboarder — the sky’s the limit.
Click below for a video of Julia’s years in Westport, created by her mother Elaine.
Good stuff, and it’s interesting to see that Julia continued to participate in more than one sport into her high school years. I know there are some who believe in specializing in one sport if a kid demonstrates real talent—and obviously Julia’s multi-sport efforts did not interfere with her success. Perhaps they even helped; I imagine Julia and/or her parents would be in the best position to weigh in on that.
Also, I know Bill Steinkraus won an Olympic medal decades ago. So…are Bill and Julia the only people who grew up here who have won Olympic medals?
Fred, apologies for the slow response. Not only did her multi-sport exposure not interfere, it was a vital part of the journey and her success. There is a book called Range by David Epstein that I only read recently (I had heard him in an interview on NPR which is worth hearing), that confirmed, in far more scientific terms than I could muster, that this approach produces far better, longer lasting results with less burnout and far greater enjoyment! The temptation, which we certainly felt but resisted, is if your child excels at something to go full bore into that activity to the exclusion of other experiences (note I didn’t say “sports”, but experiences, including formal and informal “sports”-like climbing trees/boulder jumping etc). Chances are, if he/she is good at one thing, he/she will be good at others and will find other activities to excel at and be interested in. Engaging in multiple activities also reduces the likelihood of repetitive motion injuries and builds greater breadth of experience that can be brought into the sport that he/she would eventually specialize in at a later age (high school), as opposed to relentless repetition. I hope this helps.
Thank you Dan! Congratulations Julia and team Marino! Julia’s accomplishments are insane when you stop and think how many kids snowboard worldwide! To win a Silver Medal on the wold’s biggest stage is amazing. Enjoy the well deserved “fun” travel, you’ve earned it!