Kelly Clark has been the face of women’s snowboarding in the United States for nearly two decades and she’s not quite ready for that to change.
Clark is competing in her fifth Olympics at PyeongChang, squaring off against athletes half her age and inspiring all of them. She’s also got her eyes on a fourth medal and a picture-perfect finish. Of course, the road back to the top of the halfpipe has been a challenge, but Clark has loved every moment.
Here’s everything you need to know about her:
1. Clark Started Snowboarding Competitively in 1999
The West Dover, Vermont native grew up around snow and mountains, so it was only a matter of time before she tried to conquer both. Clark first started snowboarding when she was just seven years old and started competing in 1999, after watching snowboarding events at the Nagano Games in 1998.
Clark has been on a board for as long as she can remember, but she didn’t always see herself as an Olympian or, perhaps, one of the most influential women in the sport. She told NBC Olympics:
I started snowboarding before it was cool. It was not an Olympic sport, and there was no such thing as the X Games. I never saw it as a dream until snowboarding became an Olympic sport…I just try to keep working and keep investing in my sport and my career. I try to make the most of the opportunities I have.
Clark hasn’t missed a moment – or a chance to prove herself. The PyeongChang Games are her fifth Olympics and she currently holds the records for most X Games medals by a female and consecutive Winter X Games appearances.
2. She Won a Gold Medal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City
Clark appeared in her first Olympic Games in 2002 and it didn’t take long for her to leave her mark. She captured gold in the halfpipe, catapulting herself to the top of the sport and, suddenly, inspiring a whole new generation of snowboarders.
Of course, Clark was proud of her accomplishments, but winning Olympic gold also proved a point – to everyone in her life. She told NBC Olympics: “[My parents] always supported me, but pursuing athletics always comes with risk. I had one year to prove to my parents that I could make snowboarding a career — that was the year I won the Olympics.”
Since then, Clark has competed in four consecutive Games, bringing home bronze in both Vancouver and Sochi. The 34-year-old Clark didn’t notch a perfect performance in the Olympic qualifying runs in PyeongChang. She fell during her first run and posted a 63.5 in her second, forced to wait and see as other athletes tried to circumvent her.
Clark still cracked the top-12, however, and, more importantly, earned a spot in the final, but she was quick to admit she was nervous. “I think there’s a lot of really incredible, talented snowboarders out there,” she told The Washington Post. “You want to be the one deciding that. You don’t want to leave it to other people.”
3. Clark Has Been Vocal About Her Faith
Clark hasn’t been shy about how important her faith is to her and how it’s affected her throughout her career. She told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that, even after winning Olympic gold, she was searching for something to focus her life around.
“She was not feeling connected to anything,” Clark’s coach Rick Bower said. “She was really struggling. You could see that struggle.”
Clark spent four months with friends at the Mammoth Lighthouse Church – invited by her friend and fellow snowboarder Natalie McLeod – in 2004 and discovered a belief in Christianity that she maintains to this day. She explained the time to FCA, saying:
They loved me because of who I was and not what I did. I hadn’t met a lot of people who did that with me until that point in my life…I gave my heart to the Lord that day.
Now, Clark competes with a sticker on her board that reads “I cannot hide my love for Jesus,” a reminder every single time she competes. “Everything I do is about Jesus,” she told Christianity Today. “And that sticker has opened a lot of doors for me to witness.”
4. Her Family Owned a Pizza Restaurant While She Was Growing Up
Clark, of course, considers herself a bit of a snowboarding expert, but she’s also got a vast and deep knowledge of something else – pizza, possibly deep dish pizza.
Her family owned a pizza shop while she was growing up in Vermont and Kelly detailed her familiarity with the food, telling Cosmopolitan: “In an alternate universe I would imagine that would be my profession.” Her favorite topping? Easy. Prosciutto and arugula, she said, adding “you feel like you’re almost getting a salad and a pizza.”
The Clark family also bred golden retrievers and, finally, Clark has one of her own.
She got Iris while recovering from hip surgery and the two are inseparable now, hiking, camping, swimming and even, sometimes, taking to the snow together.
5. She Started the Kelly Clark Foundation in 2010
Clark has been living her dream for nearly two decades now and, in 2010, decided she wanted to help others do the same. The Kelly Clark Foundation, according to its website, was established to “provide youth with the resources and opportunities they need to achieve their highest potential through snowboarding.”
According to its mission, the eponymous foundation:
…strives to empower youth, using snowboarding as the medium for success. By removing the financial barriers to snowboarding, the Foundation hopes to (1) make snowboarding more financially accessible, (2) increase and diversify participation in the snowboard industry, and (3) facilitate opportunities for the widespread use of snowboarding as tool for personal success. Through our programs, scholars, partners, and supporters, we hope to spark not only greater participation in the industry, but a contagious spirit of paying it forward, and giving back to our growing snowboarding community.
Currently, the Foundation sponsors a handful of programs, including a scholarship program for members of the Mammoth Mountain Snowboard Team, where Clark trains, a Nationwide Scholar program and the Passport Program, which recognizes and supports nonprofits that also serve underprivileged youth.