WESTPORT, Conn – Westport’s Julia Marino, a 15-year-old high school sophomore and one of the nation’s top amateur snowboarders, has set her sights on the Olympics.
“I was scared about competing at first, “ Marino said. “I did one competition, and I really liked it. After that, I started to get into it.”
Marino got the new season off to a fantastic start Saturday by winning the USA Snowboarding Association’s half-pipe competition in the Youth Women (ages 14-15) division at Copper Mountain in Colorado.
Marino moved to Colorado for the winter after spending last winter in Vermont. She will compete in the USASA Rocky Mountain Series as well as in a set of three competitions designed for athletes making the transition from amateur to elite known as the Revolution Tour. She was also named to the 20-member USASA national team for 2012-13.
Marino’s mountain magic began when she was 3 and her parents, John and Elaine, put her in a skiing lesson. “It was more babysitting than skiing at that age, but when we picked her up the instructor said Julia was among the few kids who really took to it,” John said.
The family made weekend trips to northern New England and winter vacations in Colorado. Julia, who was active in several sports, tried snowboarding when she was 7. “I was this crazy little kid and I wanted to try it,” she said. “I didn’t like it as much as skiing at first.”
In 2009, Marino took an advanced snowboarding lesson during a trip to Colorado. “The feedback we got is that girls typically don’t snowboard like that,” John said. At that point, Julia had stood on a snowboard only 25 times.
Two years ago, Marino, then an eighth-grader at Bedford Middle School, started training in Vermont on weekends. She won or placed high in several USASA Southern Vermont Series competitions, which qualified her to compete at the 2011 USASA National Championships in Colorado. She finished third in slopestyle snowboarding, which is performed on specially made trails that include jumps, rails and other features.
Last winter, Julia lived at Stratton Mountain School and her family visited on weekends. She won the 2012 USASA National Championship slopestyle event in her age group and finished third in a Rail Jam competition against more experienced snowboarders ages 14 and older. She also finished seventh in half-pipe in her age group.
“We started getting calls from academies that do this sort of thing,” John said. “It was the beginning of this whole evolutionary process that made our heads spin.”
Working with Stratton Mountain School, they decided to progress to the next level. Marino and two boys from SMS made the move to train this winter in Colorado with a coach provided by SMS. In late November, she and John drove to Colorado with her equipment. Julia is staying in Colorado with her father until April. Her mother and little sister, Cece, plan to visit for the holidays and on school breaks.
Julia attended St. Joseph High School in Trumbull this fall and played varsity soccer. She is working with her teachers and guidance counselor to continue the St. Joseph curriculum through the end of the first semester from Colorado. She will take online courses through an accredited online high school for the second semester.
Schoolwork is just one part of a busy day that includes on-mountain training from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and dry land training until 4 pm. “It’s a really crowded day,” Julia said. “I try to do as much as I can and catch up on my schoolwork at night and on my days off.”
One aspect of snowboarding that appeals to Marino is its artistry and individuality. “I like how it’s all on your own,’’ she said. “It’s you, your coach and a couple of other friends. What you do affects you. I like the openness. There are no sidelines. During soccer season, it’s nice to be on a team with your friends. In snowboarding, it’s nice being an individual.”
One of her snowboarding idols is Darien’s Ellery Hollingsworth, a top professional in the sport. Marino’s goal is to reach the X-Games and the Olympics. Slopestyle, her preferred event, will be introduced in the 2014 Olympics.
"The idea for this experiment started with that lesson,’’ Julia said. “I'm excited it's progressed this far, and it continues to grow.”
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