Maddie Bowman burst onto the halfpipe scene in 2012, and into the history books two years later by winning the first Olympic gold medal in women’s halfpipe skiing. The South Lake Tahoe native had a season-ending injury in 2015, but she was back in action in 2016, topping podiums around the world. With an Olympic gold medal and nine X Games medals, including five gold, Bowman is one of the most decorated female freeskiers in history.
In her first interview after the Olympics Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, we got the opportunity to talk with Maddie about post Olympics life. Talking candidly, Maddie discusses her struggles with failure and depression, goals beyond skiing, and her ideas for the future.
Sadie: So you’re one of the most decorated woman freeskiers probably in history, for us mortals, could you share what it feels like to win gold?
Maddie: It feels like every emotion you’ve ever felt in your whole life hits you at once. Every good emotion, every weird emotion, it all hits you at one time. And then you just cry.
S: Could you also tell us what it feels like to lose or fall?
M: Um, you know sometimes it can be really hard. It depends on the mental state you’re in. If you’re just feeling really defeated that day, then it definitely feels a lot harder. And then other times it’s motivating. You’re like, okay, I’ve got this, I am going to get back up and I’m going to go do it right because now I know what I did wrong. So it really, it depends. It’s all about your mindset.
S: When you’re having that kind of like harder mindset, is there anything specific that helps keep you going or anything?
M: For me, the biggest thing is to really just enjoy what I’m doing. I try to remember that, I love skiing and I’m doing it for fun and it’s something that I truly love, so there’s no reason to get frustrated. It’s just skiing.
S: Do you feel like with competitions there’s a lot more pressure and that it can be harder to enjoy it all?
M: I feel like in our setting of competition it’s really interesting because we thrive in that competition setting and it makes us feel that almost you get that adrenaline going and you get that adrenaline high and I think that a lot of us we also like seek that out. Competition is just really exciting and nerve wracking.
S: So the Olympics is one of the biggest stages in the world for athletes and there’s a lot of immediate attention behind it in the past. I know you’ve gotten a little quite a bit of hate. Do you feel like the Olympics did a good job at representing you and women’s free skiing?
M: I feel like for me individually, I think that they did a good job representing me individually. I wish that there had been less focus on that girl from Hungary, Liz Swaney. That was so stupid that was even a story. I know it was pretty frustrating for some of the other women skiers, especially, you know, the fact that we have a US woman on the podium and instead of her being on NBC the next day for an interview there, they bring Liz Swaney. So I think that was just a little frustrating, especially for those of us who have put our hearts and souls into that. And I’m not saying Liz hasn’t, I’ve watched her skied, and I enjoy her company. But I think that was just a little annoying about all attention that it got.
S: Touching back on this past Olympics, I’m sure you probably didn’t do as well as you probably thought you would. Could you tell us a little bit about what was going through your mind after?
M: Yeah. I definitely didn’t do as well as I wanted, but I did accomplish one goal. I tried my hardest. I put myself out there. I did one of the hardest runs that I’ve ever done. I wanted to walk away at the end of the day and felt like I did everything that I could and that is how I felt. It was actually really interesting because now I’ve been on both sides of things. I’ve won an Olympic gold medal and I’ve had my Olympic dreams crushed and it was really eye opening to be on both sides because I almost felt like at the Olympics that I didn’t do as well, I had such a better time with my family, with my friends.
S: Did you feel like they were two very separate experiences?
M: Yes exactly, two very separate experiences. The first Olympics, you were at the end of the games and we were pretty focused the whole time. You do media and Blah Blah Blah and there’s almost like this unspoken separation between medalists and other people. And it’s nothing out of hatred or anyone’s thinking they’re better than anyone, it’s nothing like that. It’s just like now you have different priorities after the games, right? Like you’re an Olympic medalist. Okay. You have to make the most of that moment. And when you’re not and you are just, you know, 95 percent of the other athletes out there who are just went to the games we experienced it. Maybe didn’t reach their goals but came out the other side just fine. You just like, alright, I’m on vacation. So there’s just like this weird, different separation that happens. I do feel fortunate that I got to experience both sides of that because I had some amazing memories from Korea. I loved Korea, it was super fun. So kinda crazy. I don’t know and sorry I would have better fine tuned answers for you. But this is like the first interview I’ve done about the games since the games.
S: Do you feel like being still at the Olympics, after your runs and everything, and being with a community of people who kind of know what you’re going through. Do you think that helped a lot?
M: Yeah, I do. And I think that’s what’s a little bit different, the majority of athletes there, we know what each other are going through. And I think that’s really special and you get that time to decompress, I mean I though I would cry every day for at least two weeks and I only cried that day, at the pipe on tv where everyone could see. Haha.
S: Well that’s good to hear. Was it different when you got home? Did it sink in a little bit more?
M: Yes and no. I definitely was like exhausted. I was gonked out. I slept probably for like a solid week and a half. I’d wake up, I’d have breakfast in the morning and I would go back to sleep and then I’d wake up and have lunch and then I would take a nap and then I would wake up and have dinner and then go to sleep for the night. Like that was my schedule for a week and a half.
S: Well, definitely well deserved sleep!
M: I think I was a little bit emotionally just wrecked. I think I was a little bit physically wrecked. Then we were so lucky to have such a good March in Tahoe and it started snowing and that I just like snapped out of everything and you know, life went back to normal and I just skied a ton of powder. It was awesome.
S: I think failure is the kind of something that a lot of athletes, or just like people in general, don’t like to talk about. Do you have a certain approach to failure or not being where you wanted to be?
M: Yeah I think we’re always developing that and there’s never a set answer of, this is how we deal with failure. And I think people are always changing. For me, I put a lot of work in the beginning or in the two years leading up to the Olympics. I was really struggling with some depression, feeling the pressure from the Olympic Games. Mentally, I just wasn’t very stable. And so I really had a big learning experience in that before I got to the games because with those tears before, I had to learn how to ask for help, how to talk about things that were hard, and how to like be okay with checking in with, a therapist every now and again.
And I think that that work I put in the two years before the game was what made me get through this and be happy with where I was, who I am, and the performance that I gave. So I think that’s my approach and we’re all constantly learning. I think learning how to ask for help, learning how to discuss mental health is just super important. It helps you be okay with failure because inside you’re confident in yourself and you can bounce back from that failure. Where as if we’re not confident in ourselves and we’re not happy, failure just, you know, spirals you into feeling even worse.
S: Do you feel like depression is more of a common thread for Olympic athletes that people just aren’t really talking about?
M: Yes, 100 percent. I think whether it’s depression or anxiety, we should remember that Olympic athletes are really good at sports but we’re also people. And just like every other person in the normal population that are struggling with mental health, athletes are people too and they’re also struggling with mental health. They talk about this thing called post Olympics depression and I would say that it’s pretty real because there’s this big moment and then you go back for life. Right?
S: Yeah, that’s quite the adjustment. But you’ve had quite the summer: biking, surfing, and you went to Iceland. Do you feel like that time allowed you to reflect a lot about your past year?
M: Yeah, I think I did have a good summer. I just like totally rewarded myself and told myself “hey you’ve been through it three to four years, go on vacation”. So ya, I went on a ton of vacation. I went to Costa Rica, I went to Mexico twice. I did it up and I’m stoked. I think a lot of athletes do that afterwards and it’s totally normal.
S: And you also were also taking classes this summer?
M: Yeah, I’ve actually transferred to Sierra Nevada College because I just want to live in Tahoe. Westminster really focuses on their partnership with US ski team. I wouldn’t be able to finish my degree with my scholarship, so I decided to move on and I’m studying biology.
S: Do you feel like in college you got the same or at least similar experiences as most of the other kids or do you feel like college was really different?
M: Probably the only thing that makes it different is that it older. I would say I still struggle with college just as much as the next kid and I feel like I never study enough and things like that, worrying about tests. Which is cool because I like having that normal feeling, I really do. But the only thing, it’s super funny, I have a thread going with my other friends that just went back to college and we just, we just called it “old people go to school” haha. Like for example, the girl next to me in my anatomy class didn’t have any memory of 9/11 because she was young, which like blew my mind.
S: When are you projected to graduate?
M: I’m really hoping graduate within the next three years. I’m currently a junior and just because of skiing, I can’t necessarily go to school full time so it’s really been spread out for me. So I would like to either graduate right for the next Olympics or after the next Olympics.Then I’ll go to the same school and get my masters in education there, which is cool.
S: So for the next year, like what do you think’s next for you? Are you going to be back at X Games? Competitions?
M: Yeah, I’m definitely going to be a back at X Games again. I’m just gonna start skiing again in about a week which is going to be awesome. I’m going to Switzerland. I’m coming right from Switzerland to Snowvana which is going to be awesome. I’m planning on doing all the events then I’m also hoping to get on back country some more.
S: That’s awesome, are you thinking about Tokyo 2022?
M: I’m thinking about it. I’m definitely taking my life year by year, but I still really have a passion for skiing and even though I’ve been around for a long time, I’m still young in the sport. So I’m gonna keep, keep pushing, keep going on.
S: Do you have any other goals outside of skiing?
M: Um, let’s see. I aspire to be a cat owner. But yeah, I want to get my degree, and I really want to get my masters in education and then become a high school biology teacher. I just really feel education is our most powerful tool and it’s the best thing that we can give a younger generation. So, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time in a sport where it’s kind of been about me and when I have another career I want, I want it to not be about me. Does that make sense?
S: That totally makes sense. Do you think you want to stay in Tahoe?
M: I would love to. I accomplished one of my goals this summer. I always wanted to do this, mountain bike ride called Roads to Toads, which is a 65 mile mountain bike ride and like all on single track and it’s 8,000 feet of vertical ascending and then 10,000 feet of descending. So I was stoked. It took me thirteen and a half hours.
S: That’s insane! How long had you been training for that?
M: I’ve been training most of the summer, me and a couple of my girlfriends were like, okay, we’re going to do it and my uncle. So we would get together and do big trading rides. And then I was so lucky, my mom’s boyfriend is like this kick ass mountain biker and he has done this ride for 14 years. So he helped me train, which was super cool. And by train, I mean we like went on really big right bike rides and then drank beer.
S: The best way to train!
M: Exactly! So it was so cool and like other people, they just ride all summer and then do this ride and like make it. But we were like, “we need to work” or we totally get our ass kicked.
S: Do you feel it’s important for you to have goals or sports outside of skiing?
M: Yeah, I find it super helpful for me. I think a lot of athletes base their self worth on how they perform in their sports. I think by doing things outside of your sport, I remember that yes I’m a skier but I’m also a student. I’m a mountain biker, you know, I’m a sister. I worked with Protect Our winters, so it’s important to evaluate yourself on a lot of different things because that’s another way to deal with failure. Like I didn’t do as well but it doesn’t define who I am, you know, it doesn’t define my self worth.
S: And do you feel like the media looks at you as a skier and they show kind of like glamorous parts, the highs and the lows. Do you feel like there’s a lot of “in between” that people are missing?
M: Yes and no. Like they’re supposed to cover skiing so they could definitely cover the highs and lows. When you’re in the moment, like the highs and the lows are significant, but you know with skiing, those totally affect your state of mind, but like being able to either bring yourself up out of a low or bring yourself down from a high, like that is the part where I’m glad I have other things going on in my life.
S: Well, I love your perspective on life and it’s really refreshing to hear. Thank you so much!
Come hang out with Maddie Bowman at Snowvana on Saturday Oct. 20th! She will be walking around, taking selfies, signing autographs and more at different booths! Head to our features page to see her full schedule. If you want to keep with Maddie’s adventures this winter, head over to her Instagram or Facebook and give her a follow.