U.P. Olympian delivers message of faith and inspiration at Finlandia

HANCOCK – Hancock residents heard a fellow U.P. native’s road to X Games and Olympics fame at a talk Wednesday night.

Nick Baumgartner has competed in the Olympics twice in snowboard cross, in which racers compete on a twisting, bending course to cross the finish line first. He spoke to a large crowd at Finlandia University’s Paavo Nurmi Gym Wednesday.

Baumgartner, from Iron River, came to Finlandia through his high school wrestling coach Soren Schmidt, now campus pastor at Finlandia University.

After leaving Northern Michigan University at 19, Baumgartner had lost an outlet for organized sports, and began looking for a competition to pursue.

“I love testing myself and love being the best at something,” he said.

The 32-year-old Baumgartner began snowboarding at the age of 15 – a relative graybeard in a sport where most of his competitors picked it up before they started school. That’s not the only competitive disadvantage he faced – instead of a 14,000-foot mountain, he had the 400-foot Ski Brule Resort hill. Plenty of naysayers pointed out the same thing.

“That’s a reason to come back, work my butt off, go out there, make it happen, and then say ‘You guys, see, it can be done,'” he said.

His career has taken him to the X Games, where’s he’s won gold and silver medals, and the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

He recently returned from Sochi, Russia, where he placed fourth of five in the first heat of snowboard cross on Feb. 18.

Hampered by lack of training time on the course, Baumgartner hit that first heat on a course that, thanks to a late snow, was colder, harder and faster than he’d anticipated.

“I went faster than I ever did, and I wiped out so hard,” he said. “I overshot a jump, landed at the start of the next jump.”

The result: his first concussion, and the end of his medal pursuit for 2014. He was feeling down, until he checked the comments on his Facebook page.

“There were 450 people that immediately took time out of their day to say something nice to me so I didn’t feel bad,” he said.

“To have that, I could have been dead last, to know that there were that many people around here that were proud of me.”

He’s had to overcome numerous obstacles and setbacks, from getting left off teams to competing with a broken collarbone. But Baumgartner will definitely be trying for a third Olympics trip in 2018, which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“I’m going to be 36 years old, I’m going to have a lot less hair, but I’m going to try to win another medal,” he said. “If I don’t, heck, I’ll be a three-time Olympian, even if I don’t win a medal. … the one thing I’ve learned about myself is, if I’m having fun, and I’m enjoying myself, it’s good.”

After the event, much of the crowd lined up to get Baumgartner’s autograph, pose for pictures with him and even wear his commemorative Olympics sweater.

“I thought it was really inspiring to hear about somebody up here to go to the Olympics,” said Xack Tarvainen of Chassell. “I really liked how he found determination – how he failed, but he kept working hard.”