Cool runnings in Whitefish 

With a little luck, Whitefish may become home to Ireland’s first Olympic snowboarder this February.

Jen Grace, a 31-year-old Whitefish resident who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Ireland, is currently training to compete in the giant slalom event at the 2006 Winter Games in Turino, Italy.

Grace grew up in the states, and has been snowboarding for 13 years. She started thinking about competing five years ago, while living in California, and soon met Steve Persons, a former World Cup racer who was starting “Team Fish,” a snowboarding team based in Whitefish. Her training base has been here ever since.

Before she began competing, Grace had to decide whether she was racing for the United States or Ireland.

“I knew that the U.S. snowboard team had more money, that they’re very professional and experienced,” she says. “But no one had snowboarded under the Irish flag. I felt like I was trying to create a new program for Ireland.”

Although she now competes in World Cup events under the Irish flag, Grace isn’t representing Ireland in the Olympics yet. Getting there is especially hard for snowboarders, because, unlike most other Olympic sports, it’s not enough to be the only person representing your country. Grace first has to place among the top 50 female giant slalom snowboarders in the world. To reach the top 50, Grace has to place 25th or better in a World Cup giant slalom event. Right now, her best showing is 45th, and her overall ranking is 105.

Between now and Jan. 15, she has six World Cup races, and six chances to increase her ranking.

Grace says she needs to shave about three seconds off her time. Training, of course, is the only way to get there.

“The most important thing is mental training,” Grace says.

According to her, she needs to develop a “reckless confidence.”

But if recklessness causes her to wreck, Grace says the speeds at which she’ll hit are enough to kill, paralyze or, more likely, end her racing career.

“That’s the funny thing,” Grace says. “You’ve got to push it to your limit to succeed.”

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