Courtenay’s Spencer O’Brien finished the 2012/13 season ranked number two in the World Snowboard Tour’s slopestyle rankings. She was a medal hopeful for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics but was waylaid by rheumatoid arthritis in late-2013. Despite the setback, she advanced to the Olympic final and placed 12th.
O’Brien will get another crack at an Olympic medal as part of Canada’s slopestyle/big air team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, which kick off next week in South Korea.
“I’m such a different person now than I was in 2014, and my circumstances going into the Games are so much different,” O’Brien said by email. “I learned a lot about perseverance and what I’m capable of during those Olympics, and I think that experience and knowledge is going to serve me well going into Korea. I feel really content with where I’m at and what I want to achieve.”
Though there’s a chance the arthritis could flare up, she is more or less symptom-free after finding the right medication.
O’Brien kicked off this season with a Dew Tour win, December in Breckenridge, Colo. Last month, she was with her teammates at a camp in Whistler. She also spent a weekend at Mount Cain before heading to the X Games, but bruised her heel and could not compete. But she says she’ll be “fine for the Games.”
In 2016, O’Brien won slopestyle gold in Aspen for her sixth career X Games medal. Another career highlight was winning the 2012 world championships.
“Also landing my run at X in 2015,” she said. “I didn’t end up on the podium but it was one of my favourite runs I’ve ever landed in competition.”
O’Brien was born in Alert Bay, grew up in Courtenay and now resides in East Vancouver. She learned to ski at three years of age at Mount Cain, and continued at Mount Washington when her family moved to Courtenay. She learned to snowboard at 11 — and never looked back.
“It was so great to grow up on the island, it’s such a special place to me. Mount Washington has so much great terrain and it shaped me into the rider I am today.”
Besides snowboarding, O’Brien is involved with the Alliance for Climate Education, which helps educate youth about climate change and what they can do to help.
“I’ve spoken at a few schools on their behalf. It’s such a powerful message, and one that I think is so important for future generations to learn at a young age.”
O’Brien is also involved with Nike N7, a program to promote health and wellness in Aboriginal communities.
The big air women’s competition starts Feb. 19 in Pyeongchang. The finals are Feb. 23.